Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In My Mailbox, the Government’s Wastebasket

More and more I’m wondering why we pay for a Postal Service. It started out in Ben Franklin’s time, authorized under the US Constitution. Since it was losing money, in 1983 it was reorganized as an independent organization, charged with becoming self-sufficient. Since then it has not directly received taxpayer-dollars, however it has received subsidies for costs associated with the disabled and overseas voters. Currently, it is borrowing money from the U.S. Treasury to pay its deficits.

With the increased usage of email, the postal service has had to look to other sources of revenue while cutting costs. Most mail now consists of requests for contributions from NGOs. We can assume that much other unsolicited mail, such as catalogues, result from a vigorous sales campaign on the part of the USPS.

But it’s worth mentioning that many civil organizations, such as the Sierra Club, Oxfam, Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity, are doing work that in other countries is done by government. Of course, government watchdog groups such as Amnesty Now, or the ACLU, are not going to be run by the government. But overall, the result is that not only do Americans pay taxes, they also make contributions to innumerable ‘causes’, AND put in time as volunteers.

If predictions for the mid-term elections are any indication of American satisfaction with government, in particular active government, or what the Republicans and Libertarians call tax and spend government, there is a fundamental disjuncture here: one can defend it by affirming that Americans want to decide for themselves what causes to defend. Many of Americans who perhaps do not support the ACLU may contribute many volunteer hours to the Rotary Club.

But having recognized that, is this not an illustration of the basic inequality that constitutes the foundation of our society. Should people choose the charities they support, or should government represent the common solidarity of all its citizens toward each other and toward the planet that is our home?


  1. Hmmm. I had not thought about much of the mail these days as existing because of vigorous sales campaigns by the USPS. But of course that makes perfect sense! You ask an interesting question. One thought is that junk mail is quite ecologically unsound and so would be the opposite of the government representing a common solidarity toward our home the planet. Also, the fossil fuel used to power the USPS vehicles that deliver (mostly) junk mail might be considered wasteful. On the other hand, I do receive mail from Sierra Club, American Cancer Society, World Wildlife Fund, NRDC, Nature Conservancy and others - and I contribute annually using their mail-in reply forms...in spite of the fact that I am on their email request systems also! It isn't that I am afraid to spend money over the internet, because I do that frequently, but I prefer supporting charities via USPS. I will be giving my practices due consideration.

  2. Hi Lydia,
    Thanks for going all the way in your reasoning. Wouldn't contributing on line make