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The Post Office and the Dollar Store: A Common Sense Holiday Tale

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In Anytown USA, next door to the Post Office is a Dollar Store. The Dollar Store buys stamps from the Post Office and sells them for a nickel more than the Post Office does. Which is a pretty good deal, especially when there are long lines at the Post Office. Your time is surely worth more than a nickel. Especially when you would have spent at least 30 minutes standing in line at the Post Office. The Dollar Store is obviously in business to make money, and they've found a way to give customers a deal. But it got us to wondering. Is the U.S. Postal Service a business or a public service, and rightfully a part of the public commons? Isn't a fully functioning flow of information a huge part of what makes a democracy possible? Shouldn't We the People stand up for a government agency that's meant to serve our everyday needs, and not let it be wiped out by faulty reasoning and greed?

Some lawmakers and people in big media have promoted the notion that since the U.S. Post Office is losing money, it must be privatized. Many rural routes would be eliminated. Saturday service must be cut. Besides, we shouldn't have Saturday mail delivery, since Canada, our socialist neighbor to the north gets by just fine without it having it. And this will be for the good of all. Free enterprise will solve all the problems the U.S. Postal Service is undergoing. No one says at a cost of how many lost jobs and millions of lives impacted.

During the holiday season, the Post Office is like turkey dinner, wrapping presents, flying home, and gift cards all wrapped into one amazing bundle. When we need the Post Office, it's the most awesome thing ever. During the rest of the year...not so much. Next door to the Post Office, the Dollar store is always in the business of making money, whether it's December or August. It surely doesn't sell everything inside it for a buck, but it entices customers into the store with the expectation of low prices.

If you asked someone to deliver a letter for you, from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois, and you told them you'd be paying them just 44 cents, they'd walk away laughing. If you asked FedEx or UPS if they'd deliver a letter for you over the same distance for the same amount, they wouldn't even bother laughing. They'd just hang up the phone.

Every few years, postage rates go up. Each time it is in such minimal amounts that people accept it without much protest. The U.S. Postal Service is a part of our National Commons, and something every citizen can depend upon, during good times and bad, during the Holiday Season and during the dog days of summer. During the Great Depression and during the current Great Recession. When was it decreed that governmental agencies should make money, or even break even? Is the military making money? Are foreign countries paying our government large sums of money for the privilege of having our military forces set up military bases on their homelands?

Will the end of the Postal Service happen due to market forces? Perhaps one way to help the United States Postal Service is by having a more graduated pricing system, and inserting some common sense into what someone pays to send a letter or a bill across country. Here's an idea: charge half a buck to send a first class letter or bill halfway across the country, and a buck to send it all the way, from coast-to-coast. Apply some common sense idea to fixing governmental problems before leaping to the one-size fits all solution of privatization. The same standards we hold a corner Dollar Store to aren't the standards that we should hold a centuries-old governmental agency to. Especially during the Holiday Season when everyone feels so good about what the Post Office can do for them.