U.S. Postal service mail handler Barbara Lynn sorts boxes on December 4, 2017 in Florida.

U.S. Postal service mail handler Barbara Lynn sorts boxes on December 4, 2017 in Florida.

Think about this. If you pay 49 cents and you drop a letter into a blue bin on the side of the road, in only a couple of days, your intended recipient will get it delivered to their door. And you didn’t have to do (really) a darn thing.

It’s kind of miraculous.

During this holiday season, the Postal Service gets busy, shipping holiday gifts and cards.

In 2016, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, the Postal Service estimated that it processed about 750 million packages.

And delivery was halted last week to mourn the death of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush which could inhibit their holiday delivery schedule.

President Trump’s administration recently released a report that recommended a revamp for the organization.

Politico reported the report recommended that the Postal Service should impose “ higher rates on general e-commerce goods and other non-essential items sent through the mail,” prioritizing profit.

But the reason the report was made might have very little to do with the post office, but instead, one of the Post Office’s major clients — Amazon.

From Politico:

Trump commissioned the report earlier this year after months of attacking Amazon for, in his view, ripping off USPS and treating the agency like its “Delivery Boy.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos privately owns The Washington Post, and Trump, who slams the Post’s coverage as unfair, often conflates the newspaper with the e-commerce giant, even calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.”

Politico also reports that as of September, the U.S. Postal Service had a cumulative deficit of nearly $63 billion dollars.

But the USPS been at the center of national controversy before. Even in the 19th century, as journalist Winifred Gallagher reports.

In the 1840s, the post faced the worst crisis in its history. Antebellum Americans, including the migrants moving from farms to cities, and increasingly to the western frontier, protested its high letter postage by turning to cheaper private competitors who contested its exclusive right to carry mail. The post responded by turning personal correspondence, historically a costly luxury, into a daily staple, which both aided its recovery and transformed the people’s personal lives. The combination of postage for pennies and the Railway Mail Service—a now forgotten wonder that efficiently processed mail aboard moving trains—later enabled many Americans to write to a friend in the morning and receive a reply that afternoon.

What does the future of this institution look like? How do they accomplish such a complicated feat, day in and day out?

Produced by Stef Collett.

Guests

  • Devin Leonard Bloomberg Businessweek staff writer, author of; 'Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service'; @devinleonard
  • Mark Dimondstein President, American Postal Workers Union
  • Robert Reisner Consultant, Guidehouse; former Vice President for Strategic Planning (1996-2001) at USPS.
  • Jim Tankersley Economics and tax reporter, The New York Times

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