The New York Times

June 9, 1987, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition

SECTION: Section A; Page 35, Column 2; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 700 words

HEADLINE: Enough Fourth-Class Service on Third-Class Mail

BYLINE: By James Bovard; James Bovard writes frequently about Government services.


BODY: The United States Postal Service is drowning in junk mail. The average postal carrier delivers more junk mail, or third-class letters, than first-class mail. The result is a rapid decline in the quality of all postal services.

It's time to deregulate delivery of third-class mail, thereby relieving the burden it places on the postal system. That would also create healthy competition for the Postal Service to become more efficient or lose a large share of its business.

Mail service is getting slower, more expensive and less reliable. Delivery time for first-class mail is 10 percent slower than in 1969. Meanwhile, the cost of first-class postage is rising at a rate twice as fast as inflation. Next year, a first-class stamp will cost 25 cents. Yet, according to the Postal Service's own figures, postal worker productivity has sharply declined in the 1980's.

It seems that many postal employees have responded to the increased volume by simply dumping it. A Providence, R.I., carrier was recently arrested after

(c) 1987 The New York Times, June 9, 1987

94,000 undelivered letters were found buried in his backyard. A North Carolina carrier was fired after he dumped his mail in an outhouse to avoid delivering it. Throwing away mail has become so pervasive that postal inspectors recently notified employees that throwing away mail was bad for the Postal Service's business.

According to a newsletter from the Third Class Mail Association, an organization of businesses that use third-class mail, senior postal officials have admitted that the Postal Service cannot handle the rising volume of third-class mail. In the association's most recent survey, almost 90 percent of third-class mail was delivered late - or after 10 days.

The Postal Service heavily subsidizes third-class mail. It costs six times as much to mail a three-ounce, first-class letter as a three-ounce, third-class letter. Yet a study by the American Newspaper Publishers Association found that the two classes receive almost equal treatment.

Greed is the core of the problem. The Postal Service is like the dog in Aesop's fable that, even though sickened by eating hay, did so in order to keep the cow from eating it. Though the Postal Service does a poor job of delivering mail, it prohibits private mail delivery.

The Postal Service rests on its monopoly for delivery of letters. If a label on advertising circulars reads ''Occupant,'' it is a Federal crime for, say, the Boy Scouts to raise money by delivering them.

There are a few exemptions to this monopoly - parcel post and overnight delivery, for instance. Where private firms are allowed to compete, the Postal Service is put to shame and business goes elsewhere. The Postal Service's share of the overnight letter business has fallen 60 percent in the last year, and its parcel post business has almost been taken over by United Parcel Service.

First-class mail is becoming the ghetto of American communications. The obvious solution is to abolish the Postal Service's monopoly on letter delivery, but so far postal unions have used their influence to block legislation that would end the monopoly.

An easier solution would be to deregulate delivery of third-class mail. This could be done instantly by an administrative order issued by the Postal Service's board of governors.

Allowing private delivery of third-class mail would save the Postal Service from collapsing under the flood of junk mail. It would create thousands of low-skilled jobs and reduce teen-age unemployment. It would also lead to innovative deliver systems as entrepreneurs strived to cut costs and boost efficiency.

Best of all, deregulating delivery of junk mail would help create an elaborate network of private mail deliverers, who, once organized, could create political pressure to abolish the Postal Service's monopoly on first-class mail delivery.

The United States cannot afford to enter the next century with a communications system little changed from the 18th century. Deregulating junk mail delivery would be an important step toward creating an efficient, speedy

(c) 1987 The New York Times, June 9, 1987

nationwide network for delivering all letters. It should not be a Federal crime to deliver the mail faster than the Postal Service can.