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Bet on Brown:

It was a snowy Valentine's Day in Northeast Ohio. All the schools were closed (including Case). In our neck of the woods, there was no scheduled trash pick up or mail delivery either. UPS, however, made it through.

Ilya Somin:
Neither rain nor sleet nor snow will stop the private sector. Not so with government!
2.14.2007 10:07pm
gsmcneal (www):
Funny, I was thinking the same thing today. Received a package from UPS but no mail. So like any good Volokh reader, I went and searched for "snow" on the UPS website and this came up:

Severe Weather Causing Delays

Service Update

Heavy snow and extreme cold across the United States and Canada are disrupting air, highway, and rail transportation.

The UPS package and freight network is experiencing delays in portions of the west, midwest, and northeast regions of the United States. To track the status of individual packages or shipments, please select the Tracking tab above.

The UPS Service Guarantee does not apply to shipments that are delayed due to causes beyond UPS's control, such as when air or ground transportation networks are disrupted.


But they made it through.
2.14.2007 10:27pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
You know what "going FedEx" means?

It means somebody goes wacko, but really does something.

If everyone who went postal really did, they'd probably send a written memo to their boss, then take sick leave, come in a few days later, and forget about it.

Actually, the local PO folks are great. But never send overnight to DC. I did that one time, and they tried to deliver at 7 AM to a business (it was about a hundred yards from the local PO). Surprise, no one was there. They tried again at 7 AM on Saturday. Surprise, they again were not there. They finally delivered the overnight on Monday, four days after it was sent.
2.14.2007 11:17pm
M (mail):
Well, the last time I used UPS they would only deliver between noon and 3pm, and for 3 days, and would not make other arraingments, despite the fact that I had to work at that time for those days, saying that the only other option was to go to their office sort of near the airport (hard w/o a car). And they lied repeatedly to me on the phone about their service. And for this I paid much more than I would have to us the post office. But with the post office I've never really had any trouble at all. I'm always amused when libertarians bag on the post office since it generally works very well, serves everyone, and does it at a pretty low price, something that wouldn't be true of private companies. There are good places to think the government is inefficient, but this isn't it.
2.14.2007 11:25pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I tend to agree: The primary argument against the post office is moral, not efficiency-based.
2.14.2007 11:46pm
Sean M:
I agree with Sasha. I mean, I can send a letter from New Jersey to Hawaii for /39 cents/.

I admit to being baffled how more stuff doesn't get lost than does. It's an amazing logistical operation, for sure, and I'm not sure we can say that it's just so awful.
2.15.2007 12:05am
Lev:
what's this "diggit" thing that just showed up?
2.15.2007 12:34am
Darkmage (mail) (www):
On Wednesday I had the opposite experience. On Tuesday (the worst weather day for us) I got USPS mail, a package from UPS, and a package from FedEx. Today, I got my USPS mail again, I had no inbound from FedEx, but I DID from UPS...but UPS failed to deliver due to "weather conditions out of their control". I have also had the experience mentioned earlier with UPS being unwilling to make arrangement and making me drive a 1/2 hour to the airport...whereas I've had a FedEx guy leave his cell phone number so I could find him if he was still on his route and meet him somewhere. So UPS is definitely at the bottom of my list. I rate them as FedEx, USPS, then UPS.
2.15.2007 12:43am
Ilya Somin:
I agree with Sasha. I mean, I can send a letter from New Jersey to Hawaii for /39 cents/.

I admit to being baffled how more stuff doesn't get lost than does. It's an amazing logistical operation, for sure, and I'm not sure we can say that it's just so awful.


A good deal of stuff does get lost by USPS. Moreover, the relatively low prices are a result of a combination of government subsidies (so you pay through taxes as well as the price of the stamp), and cross-subsidization (the letters to Hawaii are subsidized by the revenue from the much cheaper to deliver letters that go to the town 10 miles away. etc.).

Given that the USPS is a government-created monopoly, it is highly unlikely that it is either cheaper or more efficient than private firms in a competitive market would be.
2.15.2007 12:46am
bigchris1313 (mail):

what's this "diggit" thing that just showed up?


From what I understand, it's a way for users to rate which topics are the "best." The more "diggs" a topic gets, the closer it gets to the top. Though I'm not sure how many "diggs" an item will need to get to leap-frog the one above it. I'd wager EV posts an explanation sometime soon.
2.15.2007 12:49am
llamasex (mail) (www):
I would not suggest digging this post. It isn't all that interesting. Digg.com is a website where register users bring attention to neat or interesting things on the web. It is very popular and can bring massive amounts of traffic to a site.

What's Digg?
Digg is all about user powered content. Everything is submitted and voted on by the digg community. Share, discover, bookmark, and promote stuff that's important to you!



So unless you find or think other people will find that UPS delivered in a snowstorm while USPS didn't wait for something quality to be posted.
2.15.2007 1:04am
advisory opinion:
Digg tabs taking forever to load and strike me as faddish. I say nay.
2.15.2007 1:11am
rbj:
We had a level 3 snow emergency here in Toledo yesterday until 2 pm -- basically meaning that unless it was an emergency you had to stay off the roads or risk a ticket. Despite that, I got my mail, and in the afternoon I saw FedEx &UPS trucks out and about.


Con Law question, does the Constitution require a Post Office, or could Congress make it totally private -- with no more governmental oversight than FedEx &UPS have.
2.15.2007 8:18am
M (mail):
Well, if you don't think that the government should provide for public goods that quite obviously would not be adequately provided by a free market then I'd say you're in the pretty deep grip of an ideology but hey, that's just me.
2.15.2007 9:45am
A.G. (mail):
Part of the discrepancies between regions (i.e. USPS delivered, UPS didn't or vice versa) could be due to different transportation chains that the mail goes through. For example, consider a person who sends a piece of mail from place A to place B. UPS uses an intermediate hub X, while USPS uses Y. B is "snowed in" and so is much of the region around it, predictably. However, both companies are willing to send the package by ground through just about any whether. Thus, what matters is not whether B is snowed in, but whether X and Y are.

Of course, this is overly simplified, but that's the point. Both institutions have huge complexity in their delivery chains and with the bad weather going on, all it takes is a delay at one point for your package to not get to you. I don't know if isolated instances are the best indicator of what services are best.
2.15.2007 10:08am
RWade (mail):
Tangentially reminds me of Direct Creative's postal experiments, where they mailed very unusual items (a brick, a 20 dollar bill in only clear plastic, an unwrapped deer tibia), all labeled and appropriately stamped.

A surprising number of the items made it through, though usually with admonishments from the USPS employees.
2.15.2007 10:15am
A. Zarkov (mail):
You can always come up with individual stories where USPS does better or worse than the private carriers. This proves nothing. As far as cost goes, the private carriers are barred from first class letter delivery because USPS knows the private carriers would cherry pick the most profitable routes (the volume ones). Without USPS the cost of sending a letter to low-volume rural routes would very high if the service existed at all. Now one could argue that if you want to live in an isolated area then you should be willing to "pay the freight" for living there. Why should other people subsidize your life choices?

One thing I do know is that the USPS tracking service is much inferior to UPS and FedEx. I do know that the lines at post offices are horrendous and the window tellers are generally polite (but stupid) and move like snails. This is the reason so many privately run post offices (like Mail Boxes Etc) have sprung up. They sell you stamps (at a mark up) and ship and receive packages for you using any carrier. If the Post Office provided good retail service would these stores exist? Of course not. BTW the best place to buy stamps is at the supermarket. They will sell you a roll right at the checkout at no markup with no waiting assuming you're buying groceries anyway.

A fun novel is Post Office by Charles Bukowski. It's supposedly based on his real life experiences working as a mail carrier.
2.15.2007 10:40am
JosephSlater (mail):
Actually, the Post Office is remarkably efficient, given the vast amount of junk mail it essentially subsidizes. Bulk mailing rates from one side of the country to the other. . . It's amazing how much "the private sector is always better" is simply an article of faith for some folks, requiring no actual data on the issue at hand but just a recitation of the mantra.

RBJ, Toledo? Me too.
2.15.2007 10:41am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Actually, the Post Office is remarkably efficient …"

How do you know that? Since USPS has a monopoly on first class mail and enjoys subsidies, there's nothing to compare it to. It's like saying the US Army is efficient.

If they really are efficient than we should expect technology to improve service and reduce costs. According to Wikipedia, the cost for the first once for a first class letter in 1952 was 3 cents. If postal rates had simply increased at the rate of inflation (as measured by the CPI), then cost would equal 23 cents in 2006. But the actual cost is 39 cents. Therefore it costs 70% more to mail a letter today than it did in 1952. But look at the improvements in technology over those years that would impact the postal system. The interstate highway system, jet aircraft, electronic mail sorting, large and more fuel efficient trucks, to name but a few of many. Yet it costs more not less to mail a letter.
2.15.2007 11:10am
Peter Wimsey:
I'm going to have to agree with the people who find the post office to be very efficient. At least in my experience, USPS is consistently more reliable than UPS, such that I would rather companies ship me goods via USPS. I have also had the annoying experience of having to drive out to a distant UPS hub to pick something up.

USPS also delivers on Saturday and is much cheaper than the competition. If I absolutely had to get something someplace the next day, I would send it FedEx. For anything else, I use USPS.

"Free market" claims of USPS's inefficiency seem to me to be simply based on philosophical conviction's relating to how monopolies "must" function, rather than any empirical evidence. I'll trust my 20 years experience with both carriers over any untested theory.
2.15.2007 11:32am
James Fulford (mail):

Authorities, meanwhile, are investigating how Talovic acquired one of his weapons, a .38-caliber pistol, which is illegal for a teenager to possess, said Lori Dyer, in charge of the local office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Those efforts were delayed Wednesday when an East Coast storm shut down ATF offices, she said.
[ First Photos Of Gunman, FBI Rules Out Terrorism,KUTV.com Feb 14, 2007]


I was slightly startled to see a law enforcement agency that can't come to work when it snows.
2.15.2007 11:35am
MnZ (mail):

"Free market" claims of USPS's inefficiency seem to me to be simply based on philosophical conviction's relating to how monopolies "must" function, rather than any empirical evidence.


The USPS is not a monopoly for parcel delivery. I wonder how they would perform if they did not have compeition from UPS, Fedex, and other private firms. A. Zarkov's post immediately above yours might provide us with some clues.
2.15.2007 11:56am
Byomtov (mail):
JFTR, I got my mail yesterday, but not an overnight package I was expecting via DHL.

the relatively low prices are a result of a combination of government subsidies (so you pay through taxes as well as the price of the stamp), and cross-subsidization (the letters to Hawaii are subsidized by the revenue from the much cheaper to deliver letters that go to the town 10 miles away. etc.).

I don't know about the subsidies, but how can cross-subsidization reduce average prices?
2.15.2007 12:15pm
Shake-N-Bake:
If Agnar the Pytteful was still in charge, Case wouldn't have closed. We got 3.5 feet of snow my freshman year over a weekend continuing into Monday and they didn't close. Only one of my professors made it to class that day (first of the day, I knew he would be there as he lived within walking distance and was originally from Minnesota), we had to show up to each class and wonder if they were going to make it, walking through unshoveled or unsalted sidewalks and down iced-over "elephant stairs". Even made the national news as the only thing in the city still open for all practical purposes (complete with a video of a student falling on his arse trying to cross Euclid to get to class).

Glad someone with at least half a clue is making these decisions now. You'd think they would have figured out that the profs weren't going to be able to make it in, and they looked REALLY dumb when they had to evacuate one of the buildings (Rockefeller) when the weight of the snow was causing gargoyles and stone work to fall off the roof.
2.15.2007 1:30pm
former CWRU student (mail):
Shake-N-Bake, that brings back memories! I lived in Kusch, and had to go up and down those elephant stairs all the time. I remember climbing them with frozen legs. No wonder CWRU had a rather low student morale.
(I eventually moved to the "North Side.")
2.15.2007 4:19pm
Colorado Gal:
We had this same experience in Denver during the "Christmas Snow Storms" in December and around the New Year. Big Brown kept delivering while USPS and the Waste Management services did not /could not.

Private enterprise!
2.15.2007 4:36pm
PersonFromPorlock:
There's no reason why government agencies can't be as good as or better than their commercial counterparts; but because businesses can go broke they have more reason than government agencies do to produce a quality product.

Note that businesses do underperform and die -- vulnerability doesn't guarantee performance. But it inclines things in that direction.
2.15.2007 5:30pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
We need the government to provide services that the private sector either can't or won't. Long-term high-risk research is one example. But I don't see why we need to have the government delivering mail today. Most of the mail I get is subsidized junk mail. I can't even refuse to have it delivered! The post office refuses to accept a request not to deliver third-class mail. I can do almost all my communication electronically, and FedEx and UPS can provide package delivery. If the post office went out of existence, I wouldn't miss it.
2.15.2007 5:46pm
eric (mail):
A. Zarkov

Without USPS the cost of sending a letter to low-volume rural routes would very high if the service existed at all.


Would rural post offices not spring up? I hail from a rural area and not that long ago almost everyone had a PO Box in the town they worked in, etc.
2.15.2007 6:38pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Would rural post offices not spring up? I hail from a rural area and not that long ago almost everyone had a PO Box in the town they worked in, etc."

You could be right-- I'm repeating the excuse the USPS gives for why their monopoly should continue. I only half believe it, and I should know better.
2.15.2007 8:20pm
Byomtov (mail):
Would rural post offices not spring up? I hail from a rural area and not that long ago almost everyone had a PO Box in the town they worked in, etc.

Maybe, but it's entirely possible that delivering ordinary mail to rural towns is just not an economically viable proposition.
2.16.2007 10:35am
JRL:
Well, if you don't think that the government should provide for public goods that quite obviously would not be adequately provided by a free market then I'd say you're in the pretty deep grip of an ideology but hey, that's just me.

It's not obvious to me.

Also, I'm recalling something along the lines of if a UPS or FedEx package contains a letter or the like, the law actually says it must have a stamp on it, even if it's delivered in a private carrier package. Any truth to that?
2.16.2007 2:09pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
JRL:

Lots of isolated places don't have a big airport to provide commercial airline service. You have to use a local commuter airport and pay a high fare. Does this mean the government must provide these places with airports and cheap airline service? I think UPS and FedEx will pretty much deliver packages anywhere if you pay the freight.
2.16.2007 3:35pm
JRL:
Best as I can tell, you're agreeing with me. The free market would indeed adequately provide service if there were no US Mail.
2.16.2007 5:01pm