This year the post office will close over half of its mail centers, 3000 post offices and lay off 200.000 employees. Some people say that the post office has outlived its usefulness, that email and electronic subscriptions of magazines have eroded the traditional consumer services. The USPS themselves see their core business as first class business mail and is making the cuts accordingly.
The USPS, once the model many other countries aspired to copy, seems to be ungracefully and preparing to die. No doubt this is cheered on by those destructive elements in American society who would see this as one notch on their belt in the long battle to privatize the public sector. The post office has been systematically destroyed by allowing private business to gut its core function. So what are the possibilities?
In Germany and in Holland the post office also maintains one of the biggest banks. You can send wire transfers and cash checks, etc. Everyday people visit the post offices to do their banking and mail their letters. I imagine that they are in better shape than their American counterpart.
The USPS also thought about how they might grow, unfortunately this effort was led by some very uncreative thinking people – the result – some years back the post office made suggestions to tax email, in an effort to stay alive.
So the question is, do we shut down this public service and if not, then what are we willing to do to keep this massive institution alive?
Some time back the San Francisco Public Library looked at its mission and came to the conclusion that it was not about books, but rather information. Armed with this 21st century vision, the San Francisco Public Library now has a worker on staff to work with the homeless as an outreach worker, and maintains a great job center and banks of public access computers. I think this is a good example of an institution, which reflects on its role in a changing world and re-interprets its mission with criticality and creativity.
If the post office is not a place where you send mail, but a service, which creates a connection for the people with each other and their government, why not extend and consolidate services?
Sadly the post office is not in good shape on many levels and seemingly not willing to think outside the envelope. I am living in an artist building, the building has been receiving a single bag of mail since 1972, which has to be sorted by the people living here, because the post office continues to maintain that this is not a legal address and therefore not eligible to receive sorted mail for its tenants. Of course the 30 or so long term residents, the telephone company, the fire department, the city planners and even the mayor of the city and do not suffer from this cognitive dissonance. So maybe the day has come to let the post office go and create a new public service to distribute information and provide access to government services. The Libraries seem like they might be able to do a better job. Maybe we can host our mailboxes in TR 700, where all the art books are kept.
Then again, maybe it is a question of creating services that the post office could perform. Imagine that you have a company that visits every American household 5-6 days a week, 365 days a year. What services might you be able to offer to private industry cheaper, better and more secure? How about flowers and organic produce boxes, what about the census? Voter registration? Meals on wheels? Social Work? Perhaps the post office could extend its mission and reach by thinking about alternative uses for the post offices or the delivery people. How about providing citywide Wi-Fi – a virtual post delivery system?
What would you do if you were the Postmaster General?