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
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
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.