Today's Wall Street Journal article on the U.S. Postal Service's financial woes today contains this interesting tidbit:

Eighty-three specific post offices were approved for closing during the three months ending Nov. 15, more closings than in any quarter in the agency's history, according to the postal service. In addition, 408 post offices where service has been suspended for various reasons won't reopen amid the fiscal crisis, Mr. Granholm said.

Some of those suspensions are being contested by the Postal Regulatory Commission, independent from the postal service and reporting to Congress, which is investigating whether the postal service has been illegally using reasons such as lease expirations to close small, underused branches.

A quasi-government institution which ran an $8.5 billion deficit last year, and is expected to reach its $15 billion borrowing limit from the treasury in this fiscal year, is attempting to do the responsible thing by limiting losses...and the response is to open a federal investigation? How does this make any sense?

Here’s where the cries go up of the post office providing a nostalgic piece of Americana and a valuable service to the community that the government needs to support. As much as I agree with the valuable service part of the claim, I don’t really follow how the other two issues matter when it comes to delivering mail.

Maybe there was a time when the government needed to provide mail service, and maybe there was even a time when they were good at it. But that time has long since passed. Companies such as FedEx or UPS are far more reliable than the US Postal Service these days, providing better service, and with the added bonus of not costing the taxpayer a dime.

Yet these companies are constrained in how they operate their businesses. Current law makes it a crime for any organization that is not the US Postal Service to ship mail. Companies can still ship packages and get around the mail provision by using large, bulky envelopes that meet the requirements of mail, but the main effect of this law is making it far more costly than it should be to ship mail.

If people truly value the idea of receiving mail then they should look to change the law and open up the market for people to provide the service. If people instead value the idea of US Postal Service as some sort of nostalgic Americana, then they should be prepared for continued rising prices and lower quality service.