Under no circumstances can the U.S. Postal Service be allowed to go bankrupt.
It’s astonishing that this statement even needs to be made. But in the COVID-19 era, it appears as though astonishing circumstances have become the norm. A dangerous virus circulates. People are staying indoors, isolated, for weeks at a time. The economy has been shaken to its very foundations.
And, because of this and other reasons, the national institution that is our postal service has faced gigantic challenges.
Let’s back up a moment. Post offices are so important that they’re in the U.S. Constitution. Benjamin Franklin was our country’s first postmaster general. Our nation’s founders understood that a system that delivered mail to every resident in the country was essential for our bonds as an emerging nation, for communication and commerce.
But in recent decades, those on the fringes of the libertarian right have turned their eyes to the postal service. They have seen it as wasteful and un-businesslike. They have pointed to Federal Express and UPS as supposedly superior private-sector alternatives. And they have salivated at the prospect of privatizing one of the federal government’s finest achievements.
And they have found a receptive audience in President Trump, who bizarrely believes the post office is losing money on package deliveries (when indeed that is one of the few ways the office has turned a profit in recent years).
The post office is a public service. Its calling is to deliver mail everywhere, to everyone, including those in rural communities. And it does so while charging prices that are affordable to all. There is no way for such an institution to turn a profit in the sense of a multinational corporation. It shouldn’t have to.
Rural residents depend on the postal service to deliver medication, packages and letters. They have few other options. If parcel delivery services are available, the prices are prohibitive.
Allowing the post office to go under? It would mean a gigantic payday for Federal Express and UPS. It would cut off rural communities. And it would be a betrayal of our founders, who understood the need for a national, public system.
Congress and President Trump should stop dilly-dallying. They should address problems at the Postal Service head on by bailing it out, giving it the flexibility needed to address health care and pension challenges, and encouraging it to innovate.
But they can’t — and shouldn’t — ever consider letting it go under.