The Stamp of Chaos

The idea of private industry delivering first-class mail like the Pony Express once did is a romantic notion with no relevance to reality in 1985. The suggestion, if nothing else, is certain to make the Senate confirmation hearing of James C. Miller III more lively than it would have been.

Miller, currently chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, has been selected by President Reagan to succeed David A. Stockman as director of the Office of Management and Budget. In a recently published article, Miller resurrected the old chestnut of “breaking the monopoly” of the U.S. Postal Service on the transportation and delivery of first-class mail.

Superficially, the idea has appeal in certain quarters. Given the Postal Service’s ill-deserved reputation as being chronically inefficient and costly, imagine what a spiffy job private enterprise could do. On the other hand, imagine what a disaster it would be with private firms skimming off the most lucrative postal routes and business. The residue would be left for the Postal Service: remote places where volume is low and delivery costly, but where someone must bring the mail in spite of snow, rain, heat, gloom of night and deficits.

If you thought telephone divestiture chaotic, just wait until there are a dozen or so private mail companies scurrying for business. Competition on costly overnight delivery is one thing. But open warfare for the rest of the mail would only complicate Miller’s new assignment of addressing such things as the $200-billion-a-year budget deficits.