The US Postal Service is going bankrupt, the New York Times story screamed. Losing billions. May have to shut down entirely this winter.
Was this another example of Chicken Little Journalism, a management
style of using the news media to scare us? It certainly worked in my
house, where we count on the mail going through, regardless of rain,
snow, excessive union pensions, and management bungling.
The postmaster general is warning about ending Saturday deliveries,
closing post offices, and laying off 120,000 or so. I have another
proposal that might help a little. Eliminate junk mail. According to
what I heard on the Bill Moyers show (before PBS closed it down to save
money), 23 billion catalogs are mailed every year. Something like 53
million trees a year are used to produce all those catalogs.
Every morning, I see our mailman struggling up the path with our tree and a half. If we’re lucky, two trees.
Everybody hates catalogs. They are the media cockroaches of life in
America. You let one in, and soon you are inundated with them. The
uninvited guests are in my living room, in my kitchen, in the closets,
under the bed, and on the floor of the car. I’m sure that, left to their
own devices, they are mutating unwatched.
No right thinking American favors junk mail. Strictly speaking, there
is one: my wife. There isn’t a catalog coming through the mail slot
that she doesn’t feel obligated to, if not read, at least leaf through
its pages. How else would she know the latest in horseback riding gear,
Title Nine goods, and all the other stuff we don’t have already? How
else would she be able to discuss with friends what catalogs they have
read lately, the way previous generations discussed books?
I, for one, am willing to sacrifice her reading matter for the sake of saving the Postal Service.
If this is too radical, I have a less draconian Plan B.
As a public service, Congress should authorize the USPS to raise
rates for delivering catalogs. Yep, go ahead and impose a special tax on
third-class mail. I’m not talking about a penny or two, like the USPS
always seems to be tacking on to first-class mail, but an unfair,
onerous, whopping increase that would make the direct mail industry cry
The cost of cigarettes has increased exponentially because of
dedicated taxes designed both to reduce consumption and to pay for the
health costs connected with their use. An oppressive tax on third-class
mail not only would help pay for mailmen’s back injuries from lugging
the trees to "Resident" and "Occupant," but also would reduce the
economic stress caused by overconsumption of consumer goods. Catalogs
are responsible for living beyond means, the habit-forming
What might happen from an excessive, outrageous increase of the mail
rates for junk? First, the USPS deficit would drop. In the longer run,
catalog houses would think twice about their business plans. Of course,
catalog sales would eventually diminish, once households ran out of
their stockpiles of unread catalogs. But being smart merchandisers,
these direct mail companies would look for new ways to sell their
Perhaps they might even consider an old sales tool: advertising in newspapers. It once worked to sell goods very effectively.
Newspapers are said to be dying because of advertising declines. A
glut of new catalog product ads might reverse the death rate in Old
I’m not saying any of this will actually work. We all know the Postal
Service can’t make money at anything it does. But it will help the back
of a mailman or two. And it'll stop bringing out the Incredible Hulk in
me every time the postman rings our bell.