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EDITORIAL: Haute couture by the postman

Shirts and fashion accessories by the Postal Service

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We first thought this was a dispatch from The Onion: The U.S. Postal Service announced Tuesday that it will enhance its "cool" with the rollout of a line of apparel and accessories, targeting the young. The Postal Service, near bankruptcy, expects young hipsters to show up, perhaps in flash mobs, to order the latest in government-issued fashion. They can be the first on the block in a "Rain, Heat & Snow" brand shirt or jacket. Abercrombie & Fitch, be warned.

The logic -- if it can be called that -- behind this adventure in haute couture is that an appeal to the kids could encourage them to use real mail, snail mail, they call it, instead of email. This would drive up postal revenue. It's a strategy destined to fail. The Twitter generation has a 140-character attention span, and nobody will wait three or four days for a letter, no matter whose shirt they're wearing. With such marketing genius, it's not hard to imagine why the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion last year.

To avoid falling off a fiscal cliff of his own, the postmaster general urges Congress to enable it to dispense with Saturday mail delivery and postpone billions in payments to the postal retirees' health fund. Other "good" ideas include selling "naming rights" to post offices, adding GPS tracking to mail for a fee and charging for forwarding the mail. These are Band-Aids on a gaping head wound.

Ending the postal monopoly and opening up first-class delivery mail to the competitive marketplace might be a real solution. Germany, the Netherlands and Japan have agreed already to allow such competition.

We actually tried that once, and the Postal Service rallied to cut off the competitor. Lysander Spooner founded the American Letter Mail Company in the 1840s to deliver mail to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, in direct competition with post office routes. The government used legal and extralegal means to retaliate. Railroads with lucrative government contracts were threatened if they carried the mail for the American Letter Mail Company. The government then reduced the price of a stamp to a sum Spooner couldn't match, and the experiment failed.

Times have changed, but the thinking of many government and union officials has not. Labor compensation, including health and retirement benefits, accounts for about 80 percent of Postal Service costs, and union bosses aren't concerned that promising $44 billion in future retirement benefits without having a way to pay for it is unsustainable.

The Internet is not going away, and further bailouts won't solve the problem. Neither will reducing contributions to the postman's gold-plated pension. The House of Representatives should lead the way toward real reform by ending the postal monopoly. Until competition forces change, we won't have change -- even if Postal Service shirts are the hit of the fashion season.

The Washington Times

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