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  • A Symptom Of The Symptom

    There can’t be a more important, yet more useless symbol than the United States Postal Service.

    There are certain symbols – no, I guess they are omens – very bad predictions of what’s to come, and the United States has a monumental symbol of not only its decline, but its lack of forecasting ways to repurpose its best resources and manpower to become the most powerful voice in the twenty-first century.

    I’m talking about the United States Postal Service.

    There can’t be a more important, yet more useless symbol of American hegemony than the United States Postal Service.

    The U.S. Postal Service has become indicative of the American infrastructure and economy as a whole: a bloated – self-fulfilling behemoth that has some value, but not the value it thinks it has, while present and future labor costs skyrocket.

    I challenge someone: if they can find a way to reconstitute the U.S. Postal Service into something more viable – no: something more twenty-first century, that person will have found some incredible measures to how America itself – could do the same.

    Whenever you look at who’s in the ditch – don’t look at the ditch – who’s in the ditch or how big it is – look at the skid marks: look at how many people did exactly the same thing to end up in the ditch – without ever considering that the skid marks two miles ago were some kind of warning – some kind of foretelling of doom, but every hour on the hour — you hear another one screeching  — trying to stop — and boom — it goes quiet: that’s what the ditch does to you — it makes you go quiet and then you are no more.

    It’s the same with American exceptionalism: you’ll see institutions such as the U.S. Postal Service devolve from being world class – – to the point where we don’t even know why we still have such a thing, especially when you compound the breathtaking costs of operating them.

    If you want to look at the descent of the U.S. Postal Service, I recommend a great BusinessWeek feature by Devin Leonard, The Postal Service Nears Collapse, which illustrates how the U.S. Postal Service missed many signs that consumer needs were changing – and the more consumer needs changed – became more fluid – more technological – the U.S. Postal Service seemed to “double-down” on what it had always done in the past. There’s one word I think of when I consider the ditch – why it got so big – and how many of us have adjusted to life in the ditch: convenience. Americans, because we have so many innovations, we have become lustily convenient, as opposed to hyper-ambitious — we spent and spent – we ignored and neglected, and now the bills are due, and we don’t have the money.

    Leonard writes, “Since 2007 the USPS has been unable to cover its annual budget, 80 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits. In contrast, 43 percent of FedEx’s (FDX) budget and 61 percent of United Parcel Service’s (UPS) pay go to employee-related expenses. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the postal service’s two primary rivals are more nimble. According to SJ Consulting Group, the USPS has more than a 15 percent share of the American express and ground-shipping market. FedEx has 32 percent, UPS 53 percent…..The USPS has stayed afloat by borrowing $12 billion from the U.S. Treasury. This year it will reach its statutory debt limit. After that, insolvency looms…..On Mar. 2, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe warned Congress that his agency would default on $5.5 billion of health-care costs set aside for its future retirees scheduled for payment on Sept. 30 unless the government comes to the rescue. “At the end of the year, we are out of cash,” Donahoe said. He noted that the unusual requirement was enacted five years ago by Congress before mail started to disappear….This should be a moment for the country to ask some basic questions about its mail delivery system. Does it make sense for the postal service to charge the same amount to take a letter to Alaska that it does to carry it three city blocks? Should the USPS operate the world’s largest network of post offices when 80 percent of them lose money? And is there a way for the country to have a mail system that addresses the needs of consumers who use the Internet to correspond?”

    As I have been saying since I started Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals, it’s “moon shot” time: time for American business, academic and political leaders to create Manhattan Projects for infrastructure, innovation, job creation and a collaborative twenty-first century economy, and if not – what’s the alternative?

    I guess we can all go to work at the post office – but it just might not be there – and that’s a symptom of the symptom. Tell me what you think.

    Good Luck.

    Calvin Wilson
    Founder and CEO
    Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals

    Filed Under: Gamechangers


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