Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Effects of a Government Monopoly

This WSJ article analyzing the performance of the postal service is quite interesting, and relevant to an editorial I hope to be posting next week. This section in particular is worth noting:
Here's a secret Washington doesn't want to admit: That 14 cent per letter cost hike after inflation over the past 60 years imposes a $20 billion a year toll on the U.S. economy. The government mail system is essentially a $20 billion annual income transfer from businesses and households to the postal unions.

About 80 cents of every postal dollar pays for employee salaries and benefits (compared to less than 50 cents for Fed Ex and UPS). What that means is that if you want to cut costs at the post office, you have to slash labor expenses. Mr. Potter has reduced Postal Service employment to 650,000 from 800,000 the past four years, largely through attrition. But he still employs 650,000 workers who have among the best wages and benefits in all of American life.

Most employees have no-layoff clauses, the starting salaries are about 25% to 30% higher than for comparably skilled private workers, and the fringe benefits are so expensive that the Government Accountability Office says $500 million a year could be saved merely by bringing health benefits into line with those of other federal workers. Mr. Potter has to set aside $5 billion a year just to pay for health insurance. Postal management now wants to "save" money by not advance-funding those obligations, and Congress is likely to say yes. But that doesn't save a dime; it simply creates even larger unfunded liabilities down the road.

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