By EMERSON LYNN
The Trump administration this week is supposed to release its report on how the U.S. Postal Service could be restructured to lose less money. The report is expected to advocate for a privatization model, something that would remove it from underneath the government’s protective wing, where it has been since its founding in 1775.
If the privatization model is actually proposed, and if it is employed, the effect on rural America – places like Vermont – will be considerable.
In the city, taking the postal service private may make sense. The population density is such that the market potential might be achieved by for profit businesses. Amazon is already creating delivery centers in medium and large cities, and, as we know, Amazon can compete. It may be the example of Amazon, Uber, etc., that are driving part of the administration’s interest in taking the postal service private.
But this opportunity doesn’t exist in Vermont, or any largely rural state. Anyone who drives our backroads has a clear understanding as to what it would cost to deliver products of any nature. Not only would the delivery service be more expensive; it simply might not happen.
That’s a problem. If the delivery service we now depend upon from the U.S. Postal Service were to disappear, it would further isolate those who live outside the city. It would have a dramatic effect on all our counties, with the possible exception of Chittenden County.
We already have a population in decline. The more rural the counties, the more severe the problem. Remove the principal means by which these communities receive their packages, letters, etc., and the isolation increases and the costs go up.
It’s an assault, of sorts, on rural America.
The motivating factor behind the administration’s push is that the postal service is losing money. Save a billion here and a billion there and the money adds up. That’s the headline, and it’s something that appeals to the nation’s city dwellers, which is where 80 percent of the nation’s population lives. They don’t need the postal service; they have Amazon.
But the reason the postal service is losing money is largely because of a 2006 law that required the postal service to prefund its retiree health benefits for 75 years, something that no other agency is required to do.
Back those costs out and the postal service suddenly looks competitive.
There is an understandable need to look at the postal service as an outdated business model. It’s operated under the same set of rules and guidelines since the beginning of time. But the answer isn’t to dismantle something thought to be so vital to most Americans. The answer is to allow it to compete in the markets it can do so. The answer is to figure out services it can provide that also strengthen the communities they serve.
Most Vermont communities, for example, have a post office. Could they not also be places used to increase vote-by-mail campaigns, which is vital to strengthening our democracy?
Could they be places where people have their packages giftwrapped, or other products sold?
Undoubtedly, there will be a time when drones and driverless cars will be the means by which rural America receives its deliverable products. But we’re not there yet and it will be years before that’s realized.
In the meantime, it seems more than prudent to do what’s necessary to keep the U.S. Postal Service both relevant and vital. It’s one of rural America’s lifelines, which means all of life’s decisions needn’t revolve around for-profit organizations.
It’s called doing things for the common good.
Emerson Lynn is co-publisher of The Essex Reporter and publisher of the St. Albans Messenger, where this editorial first appeared. You can reach him at