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The Question of Privatizing the USPS

The USPS has long been a cornerstone of society in the United States. Almost everyone, especially those who live in far-out, rural areas not served by private mail carriers. However, in recent months, they have landed in the news regarding its privatization. Is it ethical to privatize a public good that many people already depend on?



Context


The USPS is at risk of being defunded and privatized, which would mean the loss of an incredibly important institution.

In fact, the history of the USPS dates back to before the United States' independence. Colonists created the service to safely and efficiently communicate across long distances. The framers of the Constitution also realized its importance, granting Congress the power to establish post offices. Mail carriers can also be seen as a means to several fundamental rights, such as the freedom of press and the freedom of speech.

Politicians with more conservative viewpoints have advocated for the privatization for the USPS for several reasons. For one, most postal workers are unionized, and tend to lean towards Democratic/liberal viewpoints. Also, conservatives think that the Post Office is too large of a financial responsibility for the government, and claim that it is inefficient and could be better controlled by a corporation.

This issue has resurfaced due to the 2020 election. The USPS was hit badly by the pandemic, like nearly every other government entity. Also, there have been increased calls to defund the USPS, with some of those calls even coming from President Trump, who mentioned that "the Postal Service is a joke" earlier this year. The issue of cutting funding for the USPS has come at an interesting crossroads as well, at a time when mail-in voting is projected to reach record highs.

The question that we have to consider is this: Is privatizing the USPS ethical?


Laws


ARTICLE I, SECTION VIII, CLAUSE VII OF THE CONSTITUTION


This clause, known as the "Postal Clause," empowers Congress "to establish Post Offices and Post Roads." The Post Office has the constitutional authority to designate mail routes, and it has the ability to regulate the mail of the United States as a whole.


HOUSE RESOLUTION 33 -- 116TH CONGRESS


This statement from the House of Representatives expresses that Congress should take all appropriate measures to ensure that the USPS remains an independent establishment of the federal government not to be subject to privatization.


H.R. 8015, DELIVERING FOR AMERICA ACT


This bill, proposed by the House of Representatives, prohibits the USPS from making changes to operations or levels of service from what was established on January 1, 2020. This also establishes requirements for the processing of election mail and provides additional funding for the Postal Service Fund.

Here are some of the big changes that would be prohibited if this bill became a law (a Republican-controlled Senate makes this unlikely).

  1. Any nationwide changes of the nature of postal services

  2. Any prohibition on overtime pay to USPS officers/employees

  3. Any change that would delay mail or increase the volume of undelivered mail

  4. Treating election mail as anything other than first-class mail

  5. Removing or otherwise stopping mail sorting machines for anything but routine maintenance

  6. Removing public mail collection boxes.

  7. Enacting any rules or standards that cause a delay in mail delivery to or from a government entity.


Debate


EVALUATING ETHICS


This debate will be evaluated in a utilitarian approach. When deciding whether the privatization of the USPS is ethical, the main concept that will be observed is the effect of this action on the stakeholders, and whether this effect is negative or positive.

The main stakeholders are the USPS (and its employees), the US Government, and individuals. If the net effect for these stakeholders is positive, then the action could be held as ethical.


USPS EMPLOYEES


Employee compensation consumes nearly all USPS revenue in a typical year. These costs have surged to an average of $97,588 per postal worker in 2019, compared to $69,440 for the private sector. Much of this gap is due to the pre-payment of retirement benefits that is mandated by the government, which is currently underfunded by $120 billion.

The spread of electronic messaging has caused consumer demand for first-class mail to plummet by 47% percent since 2001. Even an increase in revenue form package delivery has not stopped heavy losses: the USPS has lost nearly $78 billion since 2007.

The postal service has long been a major employer in the U.S., however, providing upward mobility to many minorities and people from low-income backgrounds. The USPS offers an avenue for hard-working people from these backgrounds to succeed. Privatization can result in lower pay, massive layoffs, worse benefits, and an increase in income inequality by cutting off an important pipeline into a middle-class economic existence.


GOVERNMENT/LEGISLATION


The USPS is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States federal government responsible for providing postal service in the United States. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution.

Also, Congress has given the USPS monopoly power over the delivery of first-class mail and access to mailboxes, the latter of which is a unique protection among the world's postal systems. The USPS can also borrow up to $15 billion from the Treasury as low interest rates which is one of its many benefits. Other benefits include exemptions from state and local sales, income and property taxes, parking tickets, vehicle fees, and other charges.


INDIVIDUALS


There are some potential positives involving privatizing the USPS.

  1. Competition, which can drive down prices

  2. Lower taxes (potentially)

  3. Increase in service quality

However, there are also some potential negatives for individuals in this situation:

  1. High prices in the short term

  2. Much higher rural shipping costs

  3. Lack of geographic goverage


Discussion Questions


  1. Is privatizing mail services ethical?

  2. How important is it to uphold the original principles of the Constitution?

  3. If mail services are privatized, how can USPS employee rights be upheld? How can we ensure that privatized companies carry out services?





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