The National Association of Letter Carriers has offered the people of the United States a cogent lesson in how to break a monopoly: Simply refuse to work for the monopolist!
It’s a sad day in the "land of the free" when it comes to that: one monopolist squaring off against another to determine who shall rule. But there’s no further dodging the facts. The United States today is not a land of the free. The United States Postal System is a gigantic monopoly. So is the Letter Carriers’ union. Both are typical institutions of the Welfare State—or whatever else one chooses to call coercive collectivism. These are simply the forms that government takes when it becomes the instrument for plundering peaceful persons instead of protecting their lives and property.
A government that takes its orders from its letter carriers—those it puts in uniform to pass out relief checks and other goodies to the populace—is in grave danger of toppling. Other men in uniform must soon grasp the idea. It is a short step indeed from a letter carriers’ strike to a general taxpayers’ revolt. And who ever heard of a viable government that couldn’t collect taxes?
The Ides of March 1970 strike by postal employees has ended, but the lessons it affords remain to be learned and remembered.
"Business" by Coercion
The first lesson: Monopoly is a bad form of business. To be more precise, monopoly is a form of coercion rather than a businesslike attempt to satisfy customers. Let us not compound the confusion by referring to the United States Post Off¹ce as a business; it exists and operates exclusively upon the principle of coercion. Anyone refusing to use its facilities and deliveries is nonetheless compelled to help pay for them. Nor may anyone legally compete against the Post Office to render mail delivery service for willing customers.
Aside from this coercive intervention, there is no reason why mail delivery could not function like any other business, with open competition to determine who can best serve willing customers and determine how the job can be done with optimum use of scarce resources.
It needs to be added, perhaps, that a competitive postal business could not function effectively today if it were prohibited from using any means of transportation other than horse-drawn vehicles. Such a condition would simply be another form of monopoly, a grant of special coercive power to horses. By the same token, a competitive postal business cannot function effectively if confined to hiring from the closed membership of the National Association of Letter Carriers, the strength of which depends upon a monopoly of coercive power granted and upheld by the government.
A Perversion of Government
The second lesson: Establishing monopolies and defending them is an improper function of government. It should take no more than a second—or a second thought—for any person of good will toward his fellow man to realize that he stands a better chance of survival with no organized police force at all than under a force dedicated to plunder.
This is no appeal for anarchy. Excessive and growing governmental activity tends to discourage many devotees of the free market. And an increasing number of them assume illogically that the only corrective is no government at all—philosophical anarchy.
A logical case against government might be made if one believed that all men have perfect understanding plus the ability and the inclination to behave properly under all circumstances. Nor would government seem feasible if all men were presumed too evil to be trusted with policing powers.
If one believes, however, that men, though usually reasonable, are also capable of acting injuriously toward others and are prone to try it upon occasion, it then seems logical to defend oneself against this evil tendency. Thus, reasonable men will try to codify their rules of conduct, to "raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair," and to organize their defensive forces to constitute the government of their society. Its sole, logical purpose would be to suppress any outbreak of violence, fraud, or coercive threat against the life or property of any peaceful person.
How Competitive Private Enterprise Serves Consumers
What we may learn, then, from the Letter Carriers is that open competition is far more likely than a monopoly to satisfy the wants of peaceful persons anxious to earn what they receive from others. And we may learn that the serviceableness of government to men of good will depends upon its limitation to a defensive function and a refusal to grant or to support monopoly privileges for any person or group.
To speculate on how the mail might be delivered by private enterprise, if anyone were free to try, would be foolish. No one now can possibly imagine what innovations might spring from the unrestricted imaginations of everyone in search of better ways to serve consumers. All that is required is a sufficient faith in the free market to abolish the government’s present postal monopoly and open the door to competitors.
As for any dissatisfied letter carrier, he ought to be free to seek better employment opportunities anytime he chooses. There’s no point in trying to hold a man to a wage contract if he thinks the wage is inadequate. Nor is there any point in putting him on pension or relief or unemployment compensation if he quits one job before he has another or better source of livelihood. Nor should anyone be under obligation to hold open for him the employment opportunity he has rejected; let other willing and capable applicants fill such positions at whatever wage is mutually agreeable to employer and employee. Repeal the minimum wage and other work laws that now prevent women and children, and perhaps some men, from earning as much as they are worth at delivering letters or otherwise serving willing customers.
Abolish these monopolies, open the market to competition, and protect the lives and property of peaceful persons instead of granting the special privileges sought by some at the expense of others. Let government attend to its proper function, and there need be no concern whatsoever about handling the mail in a businesslike manner, without strikes, slowdowns, breakdowns, or other senseless and interminable disruptions.
Other Areas of Application
Once we learn that mail delivery is the business of business rather than of government, perhaps the lesson may also be applied in other areas now largely monopolized such as hospital service and care, education, certain branches of agriculture, various aspects of transportation and communication, some cultural and recreational facilities—yes, even those remnants of protectionism that still hang on to give all business activities a bad image.
But, if citizens persist in demanding of government all sorts of services for which police power is unnecessary and incompetent, then more and more chaos such as the postal strike may be expected. And if history tells us anything, we ought to know that the people, in desperation, eventually will turn to a dictator to restore order.
¹ William Paddock and Paul Paddock, Famine-1975! America’s Decision: Who Will Survive?
² Gordon Rattray Taylor, The Biological Time Bomb, p. 203.
³ Edward B. Espenshade, Jr. (editor), Goode’s World Atlas, 1970 edition, p. 189.
4 John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, p. 8.of the nineteenth century in spite of the fact they had a population explosion, too.
5 Chamberlain, The Roots of Capitalism, p. 123.
6 Garet Garrett, A Bubble that Broke the World, pp, 20-21.
7 Ibid., p. 49.
8 Punch, Sept. 28, 1966.
9 Richard M. Nixon, The Challenges We Face, p. 73.
¹0 L. Dudley Stamp, Land for Tomorrow, p. 219.
¹¹ Arthur McCormack (editor), Christian Responsibility and World Poverty, p. 135.
The Myth of the Post Office
The myth of the Post Office Department—that its reason for being is the service it renders the public—is grounded in a well-advertised generality; that which can best be done collectively should not be done privately. That, however, begs the question. Why is the transmission of private messages peculiarly a government function? How can we know that public operation is superior when private operation is prevented by the threat of punishment? And, if the postal business is best promoted as a collective instrument, must this instrument be implemented with police power, or could it be carried on by a private concern, paying for the privilege on the basis of bids and depending only on public patronage for its livelihood? These are questions which the deficit-paying stockholders have a right to ask.