Is The Post Office So Bad? Yes, and Try Eating More Kiwi

Kurt Bouwhuis, Mackinac Center Intern

Here is a great post from The Perfect Substitute

Asks PK:

Maybe I’m living a sheltered life here in central New Jersey, but I don’t find the Post Office a terrible experience — no worse than Fedex or UPS.

Consider, this story from today about USPS’s $1.1 billion loss in the 3rd quarter. The USPS’s primary business is transportation. You give them something, they give it to someone else, oftentimes within a mailbox or two of the address you ask of them. If you are sending a small, light, paper envelope, within the U.S., then you will get a rate of $0.44.

Visit the grocery store and price Kiwifruit, and depending on the time of year, the weather conditions of the growing season, and where you are located relative to major distribution points, you will get quoted a price in the ballpark of 40-50 cents. Consider:

  • Kiwifruit comes from New Zealand. Is there a farther location from you in the world, than New Zealand? What would it cost you to mail something USPS to New Zealand. Heck, what about across town?
  • Like the USPS, kiwifruit must be shipped to very specific points.
  • Unlike the USPS, kiwifruit producers must add the expenses of farming. Along the way, laborers, farmers, distributors, shippers, and retailers of kiwi earn a profit.
  • Kiwifruit requires very delicate shipping conditions. While paper can tolerate extreme conditions and will not spoil, kiwifruit will be ruined if the temperatures they are shipped at do not stay within a range that is much more narrow than that of paper. This is additional cost.
  • Unlike paper, which does not bruise, Kiwi must be handled more delicately, because at the end someone must be willing to buy it.
  • Unlike your postcard, which does not need to ripen, the timing of kiwi shipping is critical. Consumers will only buy the kiwi if it is at the correct stage of ripeness. Too ripe and it will spoil before they can enjoy it. Not ripe enough, and consumers won’t buy them and the grocery will have to incur the added inventory costs until they are acceptable.
  • Unlike your letter to Santa, Kiwifruit must be protected from insects.

After you consider the miracle of 40-50 cent Kiwi, does $.44 for first class mail sound like a bargain? Not only is that an absurdly high price, but they experience massive losses at that price. Why environmentalists are not up in arms over this incredibly inefficient USPS shipping model is a true mystery.


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