USPS Goes Postal on Innovation

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Advocates of laissez-faire capitalism often find ourselves at a rhetorical disadvantage, thanks to the fact that so many of the effects of government meddling in the economy are unseen, as Frederic Bastiat argues in his famous parable, "The Broken Window". Conversely, almost anyone can see the tangible "benefits" of some government program or other, fail to question the propriety of the government taking money from people to pay for it, and merrily go on in ignorance of what might have been.

Until now -- at least in the case of the tottering U. S. Postal Service (scroll to last item under "In Other News")...

Derek Khanna of Inside Sources recently showed us a prime example of what might have been in his story, "Outbox vs. USPS: How the Post Office Killed Digital Mail":

[The founders of Outbox] wanted to allow consumers to digitize all of their postal mail so that individuals could get rid of junk mail, keep important things organized and never have to go out to their mailbox again. They set out to "redefine a long cherished but broken medium of communication: postal mail." Customers would opt-in for $5 a month with "Outbox" to have their mail redirected, opened, scanned and available online or through a phone app. Consumers could then click on a particular scanned letter and ask that it be physically delivered, or that certain types of letters not be opened (e.g., bills etc.).
In addition to this boon to mail recipients -- We also learn that the USPS doesn't regard us as its customers. -- Khanna and others point out that this is also exactly the sort of thing that could vastly improve the bottom line of the struggling service. In fact, the founders actually met with the Postmaster General with that idea in mind, only to be rebuffed and told to stay off its turf. The Postal Service then used its government-granted monopoly status to destroy the startup, which fought back valiantly for a time, even employing "unpostmen" to pick up its customers' mail after the USPS started refusing to honor their requests to redirect their mail to Outbox. Unfortunately, this was too expensive for the small concern -- which was also looking at a costly legal battle just to survive.

So if -- even in this day and age of techological marvels -- the idea of being able to go through your mail on your smart phone sounds like the stuff of science fiction, you now know why. That -- along with your money -- is what the government took away from you. In return, you get what sounds like a juvenile prank: a pile of trash delivered to your home every day that you have to rummage through, in case something important is buried inside.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

'Until now...'

Keeping track of all the visible manifestations of government interference; putting them in a folder somewhere; retrieving when needed for an argument.

That sounds like a good idea to me.

Gus Van Horn said...


And yet, at the same time, even all that doesn't cover all the territory.