Gene Logsdon and Friends

Is the Day of Socialized Mail Delivery About Over?

In Gene Logsdon Blog on February 26, 2014 at 9:07 am

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From GENE LOGSDON

Our son just installed a new mailbox post for us. The old one was crippled after being wounded repeatedly by Halloweeners and snow plows over the years. What with email and cell phones I wonder if mailbox posts will go the way of hitching posts. The Postal Service says it is going broke but it seems to me all they have to do is make “free” market advertisers and political pollsters pay more for that trash they send our way without our consent and it would be rolling in dough.

Over the years, my favorite daily chore has been walking out the driveway and seeing if salvation has come my way in the mail. I mean that almost literally because before email, I depended on the mail to send out writing I was trying to sell. Then I’d wait hopefully, day after day, for letters of acceptance. And the post office never lost a single rejection slip or payment check in all those years which shows that socialized mail delivery works quite well. Also I lived in 15 different places in six different states in the first half of my life and I looked forward so much to letters from home. People will tell you things in a letter they won’t tell you in person or on Google-surveyed email.

I have been reading old Farm Journal magazines from the late 1800s and they had a lot to say about rural mail and mailboxes and Rural Free Delivery. I would have thought that nothing would have been more welcomed by farmers than to get the mail delivered to their homes free instead of having to go to the post office to pick it up. But no. There is nothing more contrary than country people today or yesterday. They bitched against socialized mailboxes just like they bitch now against socialized medicine. The substance of their obstinacy was that a letter cost them a penny stamp if they picked it up at the post office but two cents with rural “free” delivery. Also, before all the glitches were ironed out of RFD, service didn’t go to everyone equally at the start but everyone had to pay two cents per letter regardless. The arguments were remarkably like the ones leveled today against socialized medicine. Country people don’t like change until it comes and then they love it. If in the distant future, someone tries to take away our socialized mailboxes, it will be country people who fight hardest to keep them. Wilmer Atkinson, the first editor of Farm Journal and a farmer himself, railed against the automobile, too, even more vehemently than Rural Free Delivery. Cars were a symbol of evil big city ways. Then he realized how much money he was losing by not advertising cars and did a complete switcheroo. Today, the most ardent supporters of cars are country conservatives. Only crazy progressive big city liberals rail against them.

It took Wilmer less than a year to change his mind about socialized mailboxes. He figured out soon enough that more farmers would read his magazine if it were delivered to their doors free. But he used very strange arguments to justify his change of heart. One of them was that fathers and husbands would no longer have an excuse to go to the post office for the mail and loiter in town with their cronies. RFD meant they would stay home with their families like they should. Once again he was exhibiting pure conservative wishful thinking. Most farmers are not going to stay home even if you blocked their driveways with a couple dozen mailboxes on concrete posts.

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  1. “Country people don’t like change until it comes and then they love it.”
    Love the wisdom from you, Gene. Love your perspective and your thinking here. Thanks

  2. Interesting history!

    Another little known fact? The free market isn’t killing the postal service. In fact, they’ve run in the black every. single. year. The problem is a Bush-era mandate faced by no other government agency (and no other business). The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act required the USPS to fund its pension system 75 years in advance, and to do this within 10 years. Right now it pays $5.5 billion in pre-payments each year. Without this crippling requirement, the USPS would actually be profiting quite nicely while easily meeting pension requirements. Instead it’s forced to put away money for workers who haven’t yet been born.

    Here’s more about that.

    http://bitofearthfarm.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/who-is-stealing-your-mail/

  3. Terrific piece. Very insightful

  4. I am not so worried about the postal service as I am my grandkids not knowing what a letter is, or being able to write one without a spell checker. I have started to write them letters and leave a stamp with the letter to encourage writing me back. (I live just a few blocks away)

    I was reminded by an aunt a few days ago what letters and post cards mean to people that receive them. I use to send my grandmother postcards of all the places I went to on business. My aunt found a full box of my postcards she kept. She has been gone ten years now and it was obvious she looked forward to receiving them in the mail.

    I really hope we do not lose this very personal way to communicate to each other. It would be a shame not to take a few minutes of our day to occasionally write some one we know instead of tweeting, texting or emailing.

  5. The postal service is the only government agency mandated in the Constitution. Privatization can go a long way, but unless/until those in power kill the Constitution itself, I don’t see how the postal service can be driven out of existence. What I mean by that is, amendments to the Constitution are clarifications, not changes to the existing document. In order to privatize the Postal Service, they would have to rewrite the document itself. I’m pretty sure that even the most hard core conservative is going to be against that measure. And Laura is right, it’s the prefunding requirement that is squeezing the Postal Service right now. I’m pretty sure that fund is getting raided, or will be soon, to fund some other part of the ‘services’ they so grudgingly provide to us, the citizens.

  6. A few years ago when I was selling off my father’s precision tools on ebay after he passed away, I developed a real appreciation for the USPS. Compared to its commercial counterparts it was easy to deal with and cost effective. If only there were a “no mail” list as there is a “no call” list, I’d appreciate the USPS even more, as most of what shows up in my mailbox is junk I didn’t ask for!

  7. If junk is all that’s showing up in your mailbox, be glad of it because without that junk mail, the USPS really would be in trouble. What would they deliver? A few packages isn’t going to keep the mail service going. My youngest son just went to work for the post office this past Monday. I have a brother who was with the postal service for almost 40 years and my grandfather’s brother was a postman back before the days of automobiles. He used to walk a lot of miles every day. If you want them to deliver something besides junk mail, you’ll have to make contact with people you know and start writing real letters again, not online.

  8. Well I for one am thankful I can sell items on eBay and know the USPS will deliver them or if I buy something on line good old USPS will met it to my mailbox or leave me a note to come to town and pick it up. The daily mailbox visit is probably the only exercise some older country residents get these day. My parents are both long gone, but I still treasure the envelopes and letters they sent compete with their thoughts hand-written or typed on a typewriter of all things
    .
    The Gospel of John starts with:”In the Beginning was the Word”. I for one am still thankful for the words of others either handwritten or typed and sent to us through the USPS. I hope it survives or another piece of culture will just slip away.

    Even the “Trash Mail ” has it’s place as, if nothing else, a temporal catalog of culture. Take a look at trash mail of many years ago advertising Bluing or laundry detergent or most anything else “Free enterprise” could conjure up to sell. Does that not have cultural value? I can envision years from now archaeologists perusing long discarded “Trash Mail” to determine just how people lived in 2014; similar to how current day archaeologists peruse trash middens to find out how people lived long ago. /jmt .

  9. Gene: Another thought provoking article just like your new book—Gene Everlasting. I read several of its chapters twice or more last evening. I think I learned more about living than dying and I surmise that was your intention. Glad that the big C has departed your earthly body. Thank you again for another contrary and moving book. Paul Peltier

  10. Gene, another amusing and insightful post. I love the vintage photographs. Have a wonder-filled week.

  11. “If in the distant future, someone tries to take away our socialized mailboxes, it will be country people who fight hardest to keep them.” This is so true! Recently the USPS threatened to take away our local post office and we pitched a fit–even showed up at the post office for a meeting. We still have our post office, but the hours have been cut back. Now the poor post mistress has a 2 hour lunch, 1 hour of which she doesn’t get paid for. She’d rather go home an hour early but that just makes too much sense. We wonder what she’s doing in there when we forget and show up, knocking and peaking in the window when we find the door locked.

    When our previous post mistress recently retired, we went into morning. She was our welcome and visitors center, community communication link (source of good gossip), matchmaker, and librarian. We used to be able to leave books and magazines to swap on the desk just inside the door. Our new post mistress cleared out the library because she “follows the rules” and doesn’t want “to lose my job.” Now our little post office has lost its soul, and we sure are bitching about it big time! Just let them try to pry away our “socialized” mailboxes!!

  12. If the Post Office was given a free hand to run its business like a business it would be fine closing small out of date Offices and like you said making Gov’t officials pay for their mail.But all in all I don’t mind throwing in a few cents of my tax $$$ to keep the Post Office going as it benefits every person in the USA.Unlike many other things gov’t supports like Amtrak,Airlines,Farm welfare and the list goes on and on.I’d really put the Post Office very high on the scale of National Importance as citizens being able to communicate is an extension of the 1st Admendment’s Free Speech clause.The other side is maybe if the Gov’t hadn’t gotten into the mail business and private companies had then maybe our Postal Service would have been a Corvette campared to the USSR’s automobile the Yugo.

  13. Fascinating. The whole us/them mentality that determines so much of the course of human events appears everywhere. Thanks for illustrating important insights with such interesting cultural history.

    Dave ( if I remember correctly, you are the one who chooses the accompanying visuals )
    Any further info on that lead photo? It evokes a very wide range of possible back stories.
    Nice choice to further illustrate the reasons some might have feared or welcomed the coming of R.F.D.

  14. So…did you get my letter?

  15. I do like the idea of “Constitutional Mail” as thetinfoilhatsociety has described its origins, but if some intelligent sub-contracting enterprise could capitalize on the money-losing arm of the USPS (UPS? FedEx? Amazon? -anyone else interested here?) the USPS could pay down that funded retirement system, unhook it from the crazy PERS-styled pensioning scam, and keep 6-day a week delivery everywhere, with streamlining of the whole system to be self-supporting, mandate or no. I suspect that 75-year funding requirement is Step One of another raid by the feds to seize the money for more “big gub’mint” schemes. So sez me.

  16. I think if they built us a Corvett, they’d want us to pay for a Corvett, so the Yugo drivers would just have to do without. ;)

  17. “Only crazy progressive big city liberals rail against them.”
    I love the pun of ‘rail’ in there!

  18. Another aspect of losing letter writing is what it will do to historical research in years to come. No one, except maybe very well known people, will save their emails. A whole wealth of primary research will be lost. This even filters down to our individual family histories. I am glad my mother saved my letters written on my first cross country trip. I had forgotten that as a 23 year old I sent six and eight page letters home to my folks. Thanks for parents who valued me enough to think these epistles would matter in forty years.
    I was a rural carrier for thirty years…best job ever, but I could write volumes on how things have changed and what could be done to improve rural post offices and delivery now.
    Too many clueless people are making policy.

  19. You all might be interested in Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent comments regarding the Postal Service. IT IS NOT BROKE, as one is led to believe. Read his comments, and solutions.

    I once thought that the name of a movement to reconnect with the idea of letter writing might be humorously called, “Go Postal.”

    http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/22475-save-the-postal-service

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