Saturday, June 25, 2005

Junk mail

Everybody knows it but it can still hit you like a ton of bricks (just about literally). It's the volume of junk mail, especially what's accumulated after some days away. At home and at the office. Most, I guess, goes straight from the mailbox to the trash bin.

Private delivery services carry most of the important bulk mail and electronic mail takes care of just about everything else. That leaves the hugely subsidized U.S. Postal Service to deliver mostly junk mail. The U.S. Statistical Abstract's Table 1112 shows the lopsided relationships beteeen pieces handled and revenues. "Standard A" (formerly 3rd class) accounts for almost half of all the pieces handled but brings in only about a quarter of USPS revenues.

And USPS is the sort of politicized jobs program that will probably be around forever, no matter what.

Sellers looking for eyeballs also cash in on the subsidy to junk mail. I note that most solicitations now contain the bribe of a postage stamp inside so that we do not automatically toss them on arrival (on the chance that some might want to recycle this much of the junk).

Further, I can report that railing against wasteful government subsidies does not make them go away. Yet, William Baldwin, writing in Forbes (July 4) suggests that we can divert some of the stuff to electronic spam by offering to pay to receive it. "Someday, the experts who design e-mail software will figure out how to attach a user-chosen entrance fee to every e-mail inbox. If you don't like getting spam, you might set your fee at 40 cents rather than 4 cents. This could be the ultimate end of both the spam crisis and, once we get used to paid spam, printed junk mail. Save the trees!"

USPS would never really downsize it's work force but most postal workers would carry a lighter burden. Second-best, but way better than the status quo.