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Monday, March 26, 2012

But What About the Mail?

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What is so special about the mail? Must government be the sole provider? Would a postal system really be so terrible in the hands of a competitive system? We and most other countries have a government monopoly, so maybe it must be that way.

Libertarians are often called out for believing the State should be responsible for as little as possible. As Henry David Thoreau wrote (taking some liberty with the motto of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review): “That government is best that governs least.”

But the mail, really? Who believes this service can be provided without a State monopoly? As this October 9, 1967 Newsweek column by Milton Friedman shows, economics provides evidence for why a competitive system would work better. And not only that: The State, along with special interests, has pulled the wool over our eyes to hide the true reason the government’s monopoly exists.

I believe Friedman is right and our lack of imagination is our undoing. Just because the State currently performs a function does not mean the private sector cannot do it. Once we realize that government is “inefficient and backward,” as Friedman put it, and the competitive system can actually solve these problems, we should start asking if maybe, just maybe, the market might be the better option for other things the State does today.

  • Nicholas Snow is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College in the Department of Economics, and previously a Senior Lecturer at The Ohio State University Economics Department. His research focuses on the political economy of prohibition.