Going Postal

Looks like you might have to deliver those wedding invitations by email instead.

The U.S. Postal Service is about to go bust, according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. The real trouble may start this month with USPS set to fail to meet a $5.5 billion payment to its retiree health fund. “The rise of email has dramatically curbed the mailing of old-fashioned letters, while competitive delivery companies have put the squeeze on the post office’s business model,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Last year, the paper noted, the post office delivered 171 billion pieces of mail, a 20% drop from four years earlier.

Image source: The Smithsonian Institution

Donahoe would like to stop Saturday delivery, shutter post offices and lay off 120,000 workers, but lawmakers may not permit that.  Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, finds this unfair. “No business, facing the kinds of difficulty the Postal Service faces today, would survive very long if it were told how many retail outlets they should have and where they should be located,” Carper said recently. “Yet that’s what Congress does to the Postal Service.”

If Peter Drucker were to offer an explanation of whom to blame, he might present two alternatives. The first would be to blame us—or the officials we elect.

[EXPAND More]“Even a regulated monopoly can become dysfunctional,” Drucker warned in The Frontiers of Management. “As soon as there is any competition, as soon as there is an alternative way of producing the same consumer satisfaction or filling the same consumer want, regulation becomes counterproductive. It no longer ‘regulates,’ but it still forbids and stifles . . . It can, and will, make it difficult for its industry to compete, to modernize itself, to meet the new threat.”

A prime example of this, said Drucker, was—tadah!—the Postal Service: “Witness the vicissitudes of the U.S. post office, beset on one side by electronic mail and on the other by private express services.”

The second choice for blame would be the Postal Service itself. “Large, dominant producers and suppliers, having been successful and unchallenged for many years, tend to be arrogant,” Drucker wrote in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “At first they dismiss the newcomer as insignificant and, indeed, amateurish. But even when the newcomer takes a larger and larger share of their business, they find it hard to mobilize themselves for counteraction.”

An example of this phenomenon? Why, the Postal Service. “The U.S. post office did not react when UPS and FedEx took away larger and larger shares of its business,” Drucker noted. “What had made the post office so vulnerable was rapid growth in the demand for urgent delivery of time-sensitive documents and packages.”

What do you think? Who or what is to blame for the woes of the U.S. Postal Service—Congress, USPS, or something else entirely?[/EXPAND]