George Will is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political commentator who has penned some of the most beautiful prose ever written about baseball. But yesterday, in opining about the U.S. Postal Service, he whiffed when it came to basic fact checking.
After a fascinating history lesson about how Sunday mail delivery was discontinued a century ago, Will threw this clunker into his commentary for the The Washington Post:
"Surely the government could cede this function to the private sector, which probably could have a satisfactory substitute system functioning quicker than you can say 'FedEx,' 'UPS' and 'Wal-Mart.' The first two are good at delivering things; the third, supplemented by other ubiquitous retailers, could house post offices."
Question for Mr. Will: When was the last time you sent or received anything via FedEx or UPS that cost only 34 cents? Or even anywhere close to 34 cents? The average price USPS charged last fiscal year for First Class and other monopoly classes of mail was 34.1 cents.
More questions: When was the last time FedEx or UPS begged for the chance to take over the Postal Service's business? When was the last time you heard an executive from one of those companies say, "Gee, we'd really like to deliver mail to every address in the country, regardless of profitability and without price discrimination; we can't wait to drive snowmobiles in Alaska and to take mule trains into the Grand Canyon so that we can complete our appointed rounds"?
Yes, FedEx and UPS are "good at delivering things." So are moving companies and obstetricians. But none are set up to do what the Postal Service does on the scale that the Postal Service does it.
Both FedEx and UPS are happy to serve businesses five days a week (or to charge premiums for weekend delivery). But going to private homes is another matter. Their favorite method of getting low-value shipments to residences is to pay the Postal Service for making the actual deliveries.
Perhaps privatization of some or all U.S. postal services makes can or should lie in the future. But it won't simply be a matter of turning over mail delivery to the private sector, especially when no one in the private sector seems to be clamoring to take over the U.S. Postal Service and all the requirements and restrictions imposed on it.