Politics & Policy

If Canada (and Sweden and Germany) Can Fix Mail Delivery, Why Can't the U.S.?


Only hours after Canada Post unveiled its plan to end home delivery in cities,  an email appeared in my inbox. It was a press release from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., praising the Canadian decision. The email was a remainder of the oddity of postal politics.

Around the world, countries that many Americans consider bastions of liberalism have embraced postal reform. Canada is moving much of its daily letter delivery to neighborhood cluster boxes. Sweden has moved most of its post office into retail stores to save money. Germany privatized its postal service. Deutsche Post now delivers the mail in its home country and operates an international package delivery service that competes with FedEx and UPS.

Yet America, which prides itself on being more market driven than these countries, is mired in the past.  Liberal Democrats—and even some conservative Republicans—often seem more concerned about the fate of their local post office than the survival of the U.S Postal Service, a proud institution that has lost tens of billions of dollars in recent years because people aren’t sending as many letters. (It’s also stuck with a no-longer affordable legal requirement to prepay its retiree health-care benefits.)  As a result, postal efforts are paralyzed in Washington.

The further irony is that the primary champion of post reform is Issa, who often infuriates liberals with his partisan machinations. His efforts to modernize mail delivery, however, have been praised by the editorial pages of supposedly liberal newspapers like Washington Post.  Well, you can see how Swedes might find the American postal debate confusing.

Here’s a modest proposal: Democrats should embrace the European style postal reform. Supporting some of the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to open post office in Staples stores and cut back on some home delivery would be a good start.   Republicans, meanwhile, could support the White House’s flawed but necessary efforts to provide universal health care. Canadians and Swedes don’t seem to be in any hurry to get rid of their government-run health care systems.

This is not to suggest that Americans should become Canadians. But would it kill  American political leaders to borrow some  better mail delivery ideas from other counties?

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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