One can almost picture it: a late night, a little too much drinking; lots of grousing about the economy, the falling numbers; the well starts to run dry and someone calls Pink Dot to order in reinforcements… and when the guy shows up in that goofy pink car with a crate of beer, booze, and bad snacks, the lightbulb goes off. THAT’S what’s gonna save the Post Office! Delivering alcohol!
It probably didn’t go down quite that way but that’s exactly what the struggling U.S. Postal Service has proposed in their desperation to up the numbers, get revenues boosted, and make the Post Office once again as essential to American life as it was pre-Internet. Because getting your alcohol delivered right to your door – despite rain, sleet, snow or hail – is just what every American needs in the 21st Century.
Patrick Donahoe, the current Postmaster General, is no doubt a beleaguered guy. It can’t be fun in this day and age to be in charge of an industry that’s been gutted by changing technology, customer fluctuations, and economic pressures imposed by your boss, the U.S. Congress. But despite this angst, one remains obligated to wisely choose new avenues to pursue, innovative ideas to explore, and envelope-pushing strategies to implement that not only promote survival, but match the mission statement of the very agency upon which you’re doing triage. The Postal Service’s long and devoted relationship with Americans and their mail has an iconic, reverent history (think Pony Express, mail trains, rugged delivery men fending off dogs), one built on the notion of follow-though and persistence despite any adversity or weather patterns. It’s been a noble partner to the people and businesses of this country since its inception and holds the vaunted status of a grand, purposeful industry.
But these are desperate times. The U.S. Postal Service appears to be slowly but inexorably going bankrupt, and while the Forbes piece, Why The Postal Service Is Going Out Of Business, makes some valid points about market shift and irrelevancy, one attribute offered, that it’s “remarkably efficient,” would get an argument from many people, those whose interactions with the Post Office have too often been burdened by stunningly poor customer service and what would appear to be shoddy employee training (or at least the management of those employees). I wrote a piece in February titled Mourning The Postal Service? Sorry, They Lost Me A Long Time Ago in which I shared stories of the kind of crappy service that would close a restaurant, shutter a shop, or take down a vender; crappy service that was rampant and legion at post offices all over the city. As the daughter of a postal service worker myself, I found them disheartening barometers of a failing business model. My own experiences with a wide variety of post offices that seemed profoundly uninterested in catering to their customers led me to my own conclusions: that the Post Office is going out of business because of many things, but high on that list is apathy, lack of good management, and, in too many instances, appalling service.
What any business does when it hits that growing confluence of negatives is… GET BETTER. Retrain. Reconfigure. Up the ante. Raise the bar. Demand that your civil servant employees start valuing their jobs enough to do them well. What you don’t do? Come up with a proposal to start delivering “booze to your door” while you’re delivering the mail.
While some wine aficionados and beer lovers might relish the idea of having their winery purchases and micro-brewery boxes handled by the United States government, there are enough things wrong with the idea to touch on the most obvious: should the U.S. government be involved with the personal commerce of alcohol? Particularly when America has a considerable and well-known health and economic impacting alcohol abuse problem?
And that problem is starting earlier every day. In a recent article at The Huffington Post it was stated that a study found that even children as young as second-grade were “taking their first sips of alcohol”:
Based on data collected from 452 children in one Pennsylvania county each year from ages 8-and-a-half through 18, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh discovered that by age 8, 37 percent had sipped alcohol. That number jumped to 66 percent by age 12. And by the time the group hit 18.5 years old, nearly all (96 percent) had sipped or tasted alcohol, a habit associated with behaviors such as binge drinking, marijuana use, delinquency, precocious sexual behavior, drinking and driving in adolescence, and substance use disorder later, previous studies have shown.
But one finding of note in the study was that early-onset drinking didn’t occur at the same age across racial groups. Instead, only 18 percent of 8.5-year-old Black children sipped alcohol compared with 44 percent of White children, the study notes. And at age 11, 36 percent of Black children were light drinkers compared with 57 percent of White kids.
So, yes, please; let’s encourage even more booze in the home and make it easier to get by having our noble taxpayer funded postal service deliver it right to our doors… particularly for that 57 percent of white kids who’ll be imbibing early!
Then there’s the economic impact of hangovers on productivity. In a piece called Buzzkill: Hangovers Annually Cost The U.S. Economy More Than A Year Of Natural Disasters (the title alone makes the point), I covered a Center For Disease Control study that made clear the impact of alcohol on the economy of this country:
“This research captures the reality that binge drinking means binge spending and, left unchecked, the burdensome cost of excessive drinking will only go up,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Unfortunately the hangover is being passed on to all of us in the workplace and the health and criminal justice systems. The cure iit; s responsible individual behavior combined with the successful policies we used to decrease smoking in the United States.” [... ]
Overall, researchers found that about $94.2 billion (42 percent) of the total economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption were borne by federal, state, and local governments while $92.9 billion (41.5 percent) was borne by excessive drinkers and their family members. Government agencies paid most of the health care expenses due to excessive alcohol use (61 percent), while drinkers and their families bore most of the cost of lost productivity (55 percent), primarily in the form of lower household income.
Another reason why the idea of getting a government agency like the Post Office involved with the delivery of booze seems stunningly counter-productive.
Postmaster General Donahoe, however, is not looking at this from the angle of human behavior, altered states, or addiction and alcoholism; he’s looking at it strictly from an economic point of view. He talked with the Associated Press about his thinking behind the proposal:
Donahoe said Thursday delivery of alcoholic beverages is on his wish list as the agency considers ways to raise revenue and save money after losing $16 billion last year. He also said he endorses ending most door-to-door and Saturday mail deliveries as a way to help stabilize the service’s finances.
Donahoe said delivering alcohol has the potential to raise as much as $50 million a year. He mentioned how customers might want to, for example, mail bottles of wine home when they tour vineyards. Donahoe said his agency has looked at the possibility of using special boxes that would hold two, four or six bottles and ship for a flat-rate anywhere in the country.
“There’s a lot of money to be made in beer, wine and spirits,” Donahoe said. “We’d like to be in that business.”
Would you now? But, again, should the government be in the business of booze delivery? Turns out the Senate has already passed legislation to allow the Post Office to deliver alcohol, if and when the details and restrictions get worked out. Which must relieve Postmaster Donahue, whose noble goal for the USPO is based on wanting “to stay strong for the future.”
Understood. Taxpayer funded public schools around the country wanted to stay strong for the future of their kids, too, and many of their leaders thought the idea of selling candy and sodas to grade and high schoolers was a good idea; a lot of money to be made in Snickers, Coke and Skittles. But sometimes money doesn’t trump good health and the setting of exemplary, self-sustaining behaviors. Financially strapped schools looking for ways to boost their coffers – just as the Postal Service is – had to come up with better ideas. Shouldn’t the USPO?
Frankly, if this is their big idea; if the Postal Service ultimately decides to include booze in their daily delivery service, so be it (Congress in the liquor delivery business… there’s a thought). They’ll likely gain some customers, lose others. But their status as the noble American icon of yore will be forever diminished; they’ll just be a bigger – and less pink – Pink Dot.
CORRECTION: The Post Office is not considered a “taxpayer funded” agency for the most part:
The USPS in its current form runs like a business, relies on postage for revenue and, for the most part, has not used taxpayer money since 1982, when postage stamps became “products” instead of forms of taxation. Taxpayer money is only used in some cases to pay for mailing voter materials to disabled and overseas Americans.