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U.S. Post Office proposes rate increase -- and "invents" a new gimmick

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#1 of 55 OFFLINE   Brian Perry

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Posted May 03 2006 - 01:38 PM

Aside from the usual ramblings coming from the USPS when they want to raise the cost of a first class stamp (they are proposing a hike to 42 cents), I found the latest press release pretty interesting. The USPS would like to offer a "forever" stamp, which would always be sufficient to mail a first-class letter even if the rates increase in the future. According to the article, this stamp would be immune to inflation, which is the primary reason the rates are always going up. Thanks for trying to sell us something that should have been self-evident -- all stamps ever purchased should be considered "forever" stamps! If you lay out the cash today for stamps you won't use for ten years, you have essentially given the USPS an interest-free loan that should cover any inflationary costs. A 13-cent stamp from 1976 should be valid postage today for a first-class letter, as it is likely "worth" the same as (or more than) the current 39-cent stamp.

#2 of 55 OFFLINE   BrianW



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Posted May 03 2006 - 02:13 PM

As gimmicks go, I think this is a good one. I'll certainly take advantage of it in price hikes to come. What I don't like is when the USPS gets a price increase, but doesn't have any stamps printed with the new price, so they issue a pretty "flower" stamp that's good for first-class postage at the new price. But if you come across a stash of old "flower" stamps, nobody at the post office can tell you what they're worth, so you don't dare use them today. That's a bummer. At least they're pretty. Actually, I have very little to complain about regarding the USPS. They're solvent, accurate, quick (enough), and mandated by charter to continue operating even in the aftermath of an apocalypse.
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#3 of 55 OFFLINE   Peter Burtch

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Posted May 03 2006 - 02:34 PM

I wish I could agree, Brian. "Solvent" indeed. Talk about a waste of taxpayers $$. The USPS should be privatized and most of their routes taken over by organizations which are able to provide more efficient and adequate service. Postal carriers wages are welfare plain and simple. It's one thing to help pay for a system that benefits everyone when no other affordable one exists (like 100 years ago), but no longer is that the case with private companies performing much better. I'm honestly trying to see your logic in the USPS continuing after an apocalypse(?) Hopefully you were kidding with that one. -Pedro

#4 of 55 OFFLINE   todd s

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Posted May 03 2006 - 02:39 PM

You can thank Kevin Costner for keeping the mail going! Posted Image

Posted Image
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#5 of 55 OFFLINE   MarkHastings


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Posted May 03 2006 - 02:50 PM

Again, show me any business that would be as reliable and perform as well as the USPS at under $0.40 a letter. You just can't beat it. Hell, it's so cheap that Amazon gives me free shipping (via USPS) if I order $30 or more. Try giving free shipping to your customers through UPS or Fed-Ex.

#6 of 55 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC



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Posted May 03 2006 - 04:22 PM

It has been recognised since the time of Cyrus, as the Historian assures us, that a regular system of posts is an absolute necessity for the maintenance of a government over a large territory. There must be messengers to carry decrees from the capitol to the provincial cities, and reports from the provincial governors to the centre ; and other messengers to bear official tidings and summonses to those who are to receive them. In a free society such as our own, it is generally understood that, whenever the government is under an obligation of procuring some thing in order to its own proper functions, the people at large ought to have use of what has been purchased with their money, at no more cost than the additional increment of the increased traffic. What is a crying shame is the extent to which the Acts of Congress attempt to treat the Post Office — in institution inherently public in its character, and the only non-military Executive department mentioned in the Constitution — as a private enterprise, and diminish its subsidies even as they augment those paid to almost every other kind of business. Do you know that a first-class stamp, in the United States, cost three cents for a hundred years and more? There was even a three-cent coin minted, to allow a person to buy one stamp, and a three-dollar coin which circulated less widely. Besides which, the postmen do very good and reliable work, and do it with dedication. The expence and unreliability of private couriers has been a byword all down through history ; not so the public posts.

#7 of 55 OFFLINE   Henry Gale

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Posted May 03 2006 - 04:40 PM

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Some men are searchin for the Holy Grail
But there ain't nothin sweeter 
Than riden' the rails."
-Tom Waits-

#8 of 55 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 03 2006 - 05:14 PM

Man, I am not a big USPS fan (at least of their track/confirm service) but I seriously can't see any of the independent companies actually surpassing them in service. The USPS does multiple times the workload of all of those private companies, probably combined. And unlike monopolies like Cable TV, where competitor companies are itching to be let in to the market, I don't get the sense at all the UPS, FEDEX or DHL want in on the USPS. They want each other's business, but not USPS. That should tell you something about the difficult nature of the USPS's job. Someone in the other USPS thread said that other countries, smaller than the US, have had private companies try their hand at standard mail, and failed miserably. While I may choose UPS or FEDEX for packages of high worth, where I want very regular tracking updates and time delivery estimates, for my standard mail I have no problem with USPS. Back to the topic at hand, I'd be okay with a forever stamp, seeing as to how I just uncovered a book of $.32 stamps just the other day...

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#9 of 55 OFFLINE   Reginald Trent

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Posted May 03 2006 - 05:20 PM

Not sure what you are relying on for logic with the above statement. By that logic why not privatize police forces and the military with mercinaries after all aren't you trying get everything on the cheap?

#10 of 55 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 03 2006 - 05:39 PM

I'd be okay with this mercenary police force!
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#11 of 55 OFFLINE   BrettB



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Posted May 04 2006 - 02:50 AM

Didn't it just go up to .39 about 20 minutes ago?

#12 of 55 OFFLINE   Paul McElligott

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Posted May 04 2006 - 05:34 AM

This wouldn't cost the USPS that much, since stamped first class letters are a relatively small portion of their business compared to bulk mail.
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#13 of 55 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted May 04 2006 - 06:03 AM

We've had these sorts of stamps in the UK for years. Basically, you buy 'First' or 'Second' stamps with NVI (no value indicated) that are then valid in perpetuity. [In case you're wondering, 'First' should in theory arrive the next day, 'Second' within 2-3 days].
Yes, we get the same argument over here as well. Often from rich right wingers living in some expensive house in the middle of the countryside. What they conveniently forget is that they would be the first to suffer. Basically, postal systems work pretty well within cities - the concentration of people in a relatively small area makes the delivery system pretty easy. However, once you have to deliver to rural areas with a much lower population density, the exercise becomes way more expensive. Personally, I have no problem with whining rich gits going without their mail, but I would have issues with ordinary folks losing their mail service or having to pay £10 a letter just because they live in a rural area.

#14 of 55 OFFLINE   Brad Porter

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Posted May 04 2006 - 07:35 AM

Just as it is with any other occupation, your wage is an assessment of how replaceable (and in demand) your particular skills are. Postal carriers don't make very much not because they don't work hard, but because nearly all able-bodied people can perform the job. If they really don't like the wages they can try to market themselves into a higher paying job which requires some actual knowledge or experience. Someone will fill the void along the postal route.

I'd make the same counter-argument regarding the wages of public school teachers, but with a twist. There's a large number of people who are qualified to teach at the elementary education level. There's a much smaller number of people who are qualified to teach higher math and science classes. Unfortunately, they are usually all subject to the same contract terms since they are compensated under a union contract which only differentiates based on years of experience (and to some extent on what degrees they have received) and not on the relative worth of a particular individual's skills. That's why we can't find enough good physics teachers... their skills are actually rewarded more being employed in private practice rather than educating.

But back on topic, the first step to be taken is to eliminate the USPS's guaranteed monopoly on first class mail. Everyone here is presuming that another international provider would need to step in and replace all functions of the USPS, but that isn't what would happen. I would open up Brad's Mail Service and my distribution range would be limited to just my city. If you want to send a letter inside of the city limits then I can do it cheaper than the USPS because I'm not subsidizing the overhead costs of the planes, trains, and trucks to get the stuff moved around the state or country. This gives you instant savings on everything you send locally. Some other people would open up businesses that only deal with transporting mail from one city's delivery service to another's. This does not eliminate the USPS, it just gives consumers another option.

Of course, that's all the grand vision for a world where e-mail, cell phone text messaging and the wonderful world of internet message boards have not rendered the first class mail service as pretty much obsolete. I'm sure as hell not going to open Brad's Mail Service unless I get a monopoly on the transmission of personal messages between people. Posted Image

Nothing controversial in this post... Posted Image

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#15 of 55 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted May 04 2006 - 07:52 AM

Brad - your argument is an economist's. Mine was that of a considerate human. Posted Image

In any case, I'd already cut the comment you'd quoted because I don't think I can take any more arguments about how someone probably on a third of the wage of the complainer is condemned for not being smart enough to get another job. My original question was: would *you* want that job at that rate of pay? Not a request for someone to justify inequalities in pay.

With regard to the argument that math and physics teachers are in short supply, whilst there is a plethora of elementary school teachers. This isn't the 'fault' of elementary school teachers - it's that too few kids are taking math and physics degrees in the first place.

With regard to the argument that elementary school teachers should be paid less relative to high school/rare subject teachers. My mother taught in elementary school and had to put up with this crap all her working life. These are the facts:

(1) there is *always* a shortage of high school teachers in one specialism or another. At the moment it's math/physics. The problem will ease out in another few years and something else will be in shortage.

(2) Senior school teachers end up earning more because they are in larger schools and have more chances to specialise and assume more responsibilities.

(3) A lot of senior school work is simply regurgitating the same basic notes year after year. Elementary school work is teaching children not only basic facts but the skills of how to think and learn, often for the first time if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds. But what's the value of that against having a set of notes on calculus?

(4) The insistence on the same rate of pay for all is for an excellent reason. If you create differential rates of pay, what do you do when a subject suddenly becomes less scarce? Cut the salary of the people lured into the profession? In any case, if you are in a relatively rare specialism, chances for promotion will be higher and so a higher salary will be gained that way.

#16 of 55 OFFLINE   ChristopherDAC



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Posted May 04 2006 - 07:58 AM

Err — there's no savings in your plan at all, because all the infrastructure you're using is paid for by tax money. You wanna be a libertarian, fine, but you're gonna have to pay tolls on all the streets and bridges in town.

It seems like people don't understand the term natural monopoly. Local service and long-distance service are interdependent, and having three or four adits to every home is a reduplication of effort so costly as to be disastrous. That's why telephone and electric "deregulation" have been nothing more than a sham, and have resulted in very bad effects. Think about it : somebody's still got to serve the people you find uneconomical, it's called "universal service obligation", and if they don't have the better-paying routes as well there's going to be trouble down the line. Multiple rate tiers for letters, exchange rates between cities, and all of that stuff the United States went to great effort to get rid of in the 1850s.

The Federal Government needs a Post Office for its own purposes, and as long as it's delivering the Government's mail it ought to deliver everybody else's, so that the State Governments and private individuals aren't put to the incredible expence of organising their own delivery systems : a fact recognised in the Constitution.

#17 of 55 OFFLINE   Brad Porter

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Posted May 04 2006 - 12:56 PM

But as a private entity I would have to submit local sales taxes from the transactions with my customers and those taxes would fund my use of the transportation infrastructure. It's not like the roads are only used for mail delivery (like a power line is only used for transmitting electricity). I guess I'm missing how you went from my advocation of not restricting private carriers of first class mail to an argument about converting all the roads to private ownership (not that I necessarily disagree with that notion).

I don't really see how the delivery of mail constitutes a natural monopoly. If we can allow private participation in the delivery of parcels, why do we restrict it to just parcels? What makes letters unique? And if a private carrier can't find a way to deliver a letter for at least the same price that the USPS is doing it, then there is obviously a subsidy of some type being provided to the USPS for them to offer their rate. That subsidy has to be coming from tax money, so that means that I'm paying for it anyway - just not directly.

I'm not arguing for the abolishment of the USPS - just for the elimination of its particular monopoly. It works quite well for a great number of things, but it would benefit me greatly when I want to send a check to the water company across town that I don't have to subsidize the cost of someone sending a gushing letter of praise all the way from Orange County to the Bill O'Reilly show in New York or DC or wherever he broadcasts from.

Also, there wouldn't be any reason that the government entities couldn't use the same private services for transmitting their own correspondence - and revoking the franking privileges might just encourage them to make their mailings worthwhile. Posted Image Does the Federal Government really need an independent Post Office for its own purposes?

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#18 of 55 OFFLINE   Kevin Hewell

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Posted May 04 2006 - 11:10 PM

How much does first class delivery cost in the rest of the world? I've always read that the USPS costs less and delivers a much higher volume than any other postal system in the world and does a pretty good job. Why try to fix something that isn't broken?

#19 of 55 OFFLINE   Don Giro

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Posted May 05 2006 - 02:13 AM

That's an inflammatory comment, Peter. I'm the son of a retired USPS letter carrier. The man climbed stoops for 35 years to support my mom and three brats. He put us through college and owns a home. I never once heard him complain about working conditions or his salary, even during the Strike of 1970 (or was it '69 or '71? I was real young at the time). Calling a mailman's wages "welfare plain and simple" suggests my father was either a lazy lout looking for a free ride or not smart enough to find a better job. I assure you he's neither lazy nor incompetent. You may not have intended the statement to come across in such a way, but seeing as how your "welfare" comment nips at the heels of you saying the USPS is a "waste of taxpayers' $$," I can't help but think that you believe that this venerable institution exists only to keep people off welfare. I've been on this board for two years, and I've read hundreds (maybe thousands) of posts that I've not added my two cents to because, after all, this is a public forum, and we're all "disembodied voices," (for lack of a better term), and nothing anyone says really matters in the Grand Scheme of Things. This is the first time a post actually made me want to cry. The upside is that I'm gonna give my dad a huge hug when I see him later today. I think the USPS does a damn good job. When I send a letter, the letter carrier whisks it away from my doorway. I don't have to call anyone to schedule a pickup. I don't have to take it to an "authorized" carrier two miles away. I don't have to fill out a long form and/or sign anything. I just leave it above my mailbox and get right back to reading this board/watching movies/scratching myself/whatever. As far as stamps going up again goes, I try not to let things like this annoy me. The increases are going to happen whether I like it or not. I think it was a comedian named Jimmy Tingle who said back in the 80s (I'm paraphrasing): "People are complaning that the cost of a stamp is going up to 25 cents. Let's see, for 25 cents, a guy will come to my house, take my letter, and bring it to whover I want. Anywhere in the country. For twenty-five CENTS! You can't get a kid to bring a letter across the street for 25 cents!" This is the same logic I apply to NYC subway hikes, when I realize I can go from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to Coney Island for one flat fare. That's about a zillion miles (give or take).
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#20 of 55 OFFLINE   MarkHastings


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Posted May 05 2006 - 03:20 AM

Don, I'm with you. My dad (65 years old) has been with the USPS for MANY years now and I don't pitty him in the least bit. He has to work outside in some of New England's NASTIEST weather and breaks his back every day.

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