The Post Office: It Was Fun While It Lasted

"What the heck is electronic mail?"

Since you're reading this Website, you already know the answer to that question, which was posed by a 1981 Honeywell advertisement, found in the midst of a fun series of pioneering computer ads at the Retronaut Website. But unfortunately for its long-term health, the US Postal Service seems to exist these days to serve those few remaining people left who are still confused by the concept of email and electronic bill paying. Its target demographic increasingly seems to be the same as the nightly television network news and dead-tree newspapers, media that similarly exists largely for elderly people who've never figured out how that newfangled "Internet" works. Additionally, more reliable private industry services such as FedEx and UPS have also impacted the postal service. Or as Michael Walsh writes in the New York Post, "The check may never be in the mail again:"

The USPS is practically begging to be allowed to pull out of the government-goody factory that’s throttling it; the Obama administration proposes a 90-day extension on the $5.5 billion pension payment while Congress figures out what to do next. The Senate is considering various bills to allow ending Saturday delivery, post-office closures, etc. In the House, Rep. Darrell Issa also wants a financial-control board established, in case the USPS goes into default.

Titanic, meet deck chairs. Buzz Lightyear or no Buzz Lightyear, letter-writing is a dying art; bills and most documents are now easily conveyed by e-mail, and FedEx and UPS have better reputations for reliability.

No major government entity has ever simply vanished, especially not one with such a storied history. But the stupefying impracticality of its health-care and pension burdens practically guarantee the collapse of the venerable P.O., and its replacement by private industry -- and similar burdens are a problem for every level of US government.

The feds may opt for vast subsidies to keep the Postal Service afloat -- but they should heed the warning: The USPS is simply the canary in the coal mine, about to turn blue and keel over.

Not to mention making a mockery of all of the president's environmental obsessions.

(Arguably even more so than he does himself, that is.)

Update: Richard Fernandez adds:

So it looks like the USPS is a goner. All that may be left of it is its pension footprint, the lingering smile of the fiscal Cheshire Cat. In its own way the saga of the Post Office embodies both the finest traditions of change and illustrates its dangers. Just as the post-horses of the Persian Empire gave way first to the iron horse and later to delivery by air, so now messages are being delivered over the wire. The means change.  But the essence of the task often remains.

The USPS made the mistake of believing that its business was delivering letters and satisfying the unions. That was wrong. It forgot that its real business was linking the hearths of men. That unmet need was provided by social networking entreprenuers, email providers and the cell phone industry. Linking the men is the core business. The pony express rider, the mail pilot and the network administrator know that. The rest is merely detail.

As Mark Steyn wrote in After America, "'Linger awhile, how fair thou art,' in the words of Goethe’s Faust, which would make a fine epitaph for the European Union," not to mention the more hidebound and elderly aspects of American government as well.