George Will Demonstrates Willful Ignorance of the Postal Service’s Real Problem

By Richard Thayer

You will find them in every high school and university: that kid who has a reputation for being really smart, smarter than everyone else in the school. They may even be a genius.These are the kids who excel in all of their classes, with the possible exception of athletics. If they’re on a debating team they will beat the socks off the competition no matter what the subject. These are the kids with whom you can’t carry on a conversation because they speak a different language, everything they say is so “intelligent” that it goes right over your head. These are the kids you don’t want to be around because, even though you’re smart in your own right when compared with “average” kids, they make you feel stupid.

Attitudes with these students can vary. Many of them are extra-smart and just can’t help it. But they don’t flaunt it. They don’t rub other students’ noses in it. They at least try to act like they’re normal and try to be sociable.

Then there are other kids who are irritatingly smart. They know they’re smarter than average and they’re not shy about letting you know it. In case you may have missed it, they want to make sure that you recognize their smartness.

Not only are these people seemingly smarter than most everyone else, but they’re also opinionated, irritatingly so. And if you don’t agree with them, then you’re stupid.

The conservative columnist, George Will, strikes me as being that kind of guy. Now he may indeed be smart, but it’s in a right-wingy kind of way as opposed to a fair and balanced kind of way. Now I don’t mind the right-wing slant so much as I do the fact that his ideology many times is not very well thought out. Even if your opinions are informed by the right, at least you should try to base them on facts. Back in days gone by, Republicans used to do that. Even if you were left-leaning and disagreed with them, they could actually make some valid points which in turn could make you rethink your position.

But all of that has changed now. Now politicians and pundits, like Will, believe that day is night, night is day, up is down, and down is up. They have become increasingly irrational and spout off stuff that, if investigated, doesn’t have a very sound foundation.

Take for example Will’s recent column on the Postal Service, “Post-Postal Service,” in which he advocates the privatization of the USPS. Will believes that if the Postal Service were required to operate like a private business but operating as it does now, it would have to file for bankruptcy. It couldn’t compete with all those efficient job creators out there.

Says Will: “The fact that delivering the mail is one of the very few things the federal government does that the Constitution specifically authorizes (Article I, Section 8:’The Congress shall have the power to…establish post offices and post roads’) does not mean it must do it. Surely the government could cede this function to the private sector, which probably could have a satisfactory substitute system functioning quicker than you can say ‘FedEx,’ ‘UPS’ and ‘Wal-Mart.'”

I get the impression from that paragraph alone that Will, rather than doing a little research on the subject, has relied primarily on misinformation being doled out by the Postal Service, Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and conservative politicians on Capitol Hill like Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

Like other like-minded ideologues on the far Right, Will refuses to look at the facts. The fact is that back in 2006 Congress, in all of its wisdom, passed a law requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund its retiree health benefits to the tune of $5.5 billion a year, to be paid over a 10 year period. At the end of that period the Postal Service will have enough money for that fund to cover the next 75 years.

Back in 2006 evidently the powers-that-be in Congress thought that made perfectly good sense even though no other company, private or public, is required to do that. If instead of pouring that money into an escrow account every year, the Postal Service could use it for the here-and-now, it would have been profitable for most of the past five years.

This shouldn’t be such a difficult concept for people to understand. It’s just simple math. But there are some people,, like George Will, who don’t want to understand. They just don’t. They refuse to understand because it doesn’t align itself with their particular ideology. The idea here is that all government is bad; it’s inefficient, it’s wasteful, its employees have far too much money and way too many benefits and the country would be much better off if everything was privatized and there were no regulations. Then the economy would boom.

Yeah, boom, as in explode.

By the way, Will seems to believe that if FedEx and UPS were running the Postal Service, they could do a much better job of it. By not doing his homework Will fails to realize that FedEx and UPS use the Postal Service to deliver packages to those areas of the country where they don’t deliver because it’s simply not profitable for them to do so.

And as for WalMart, how would you like to be an employee of a WalMart-type Postal Service where the pay is lousy and the benefits are non-existent?

And therein, as Shakespeare would say, lies the rub. Will and many Republican leaders, and the clueless Postal Service leaders in Washington, want the Postal Service to operate like WalMart.

Will’s argument for privatizing the Postal Service has much to do about pursuing an ideological agenda and very little to do with improving the Postal Service.

(Photo credit: Funny Junk)


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2 Responses to “George Will Demonstrates Willful Ignorance of the Postal Service’s Real Problem”

  1. Ray Farrow Says:

    I understand the Universal Mandate dilemma that the USPS faces and the ridiculous congressional pension-funding mandate that took away recent profitability. (My father-in-law was a rural mail carrier for 33 years, so my wife and her family were raised on a USPS income.) But the second problem — the pension-funding mandate — speaks to a salient point Will makes (that you lampoon): requiring that type of pension funding is inefficient and wasteful. Will does not call for no regulations, but there’s an unnecessary regulation, not made by those who run the USPS, that burdens the agency. The difficulty of trying to reverse the pension funding mandate once the economy went south (because of government interference and over-regulation in the housing market) merely illustrates another government folly; namely, constantly being burned by the Law of Unintended Consequences (for problem examples, see Medicaid, Medicare, rent control, etc.)

    Why would Congress demand such a thing of a govenrnment agency when private businesses (which must turn a profit or go under, unless the government foolishes bails them out) would not? From what I’ve been able to read, it had to do with budget scoring. USPS folks were not happy about what Congress did. That is yet another big picture lesson that makes not only Will and conservatives, but also libertarians, and probably some anti-big government Democrats, outraged. The pension funding was mandated by those in Congress who don’t have to worry (much) about government turning a profit. Most in Congress have not run businesses. It is done for reasons other than what is best for the USPS and the taxpayers.

    Will has never said there should be no government services, nor has any conservative commentator. But government does tend to be slow to react to changing circumstances, protective of union employees (which means votes), and often works at cross purposes within its own bureaucracies. In doing so, it is wasteful and inefficient with often burdensome regulations and, yes, public-sector employees often do make more in pay and benefits that their private-sector counterparts with the bills for such pay shuffled onto future generations. Efficient? Ask New your and California how that’s going? They face bankruptcy.

    Perhaps privatization is not the answer. But would UPS and FedEx work in a manner so contrary to their businesses’ health? No. If they had, could they adjust quickly and repair the situation. As for government, still waiting.


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