USPS: Junk Mail Protects Jobs!

John's picture

American Heritage Dictionary -
soph·ism (sŏf'ĭz'əm) Pronunciation Key

1. A plausible but fallacious argument.
2. Deceptive or fallacious argumentation.

[Middle English sophime, sophisme, from Old French sophime, from Latin sophisma, from Greek, from sophizesthai, to be subtle, from sophos, clever, wise.]

When one first reads Economic Sophisms by Frederic Bastiat, it is a very eye-opening experience that leaves the reader forever changed....much like learning about the "birds and the bees" leaves one's views of storks, salmon and private parts unable to return to their "pre-birds and bees" innocence.

And if I kept one lesson from Henry Hazlitt, it's that understanding a fallacy or sophism when explained in basic terms does not stop people from believing them or falling for them when masked in the complexity of real world issues. Indeed, sophisms are very pervasive because they SOUND right.

One such sophism came my way via The Liberty Papers, which cited a Reason article by Radley Balko.

It seems the USPS is opposing a CO state bill that would uphold people's desire to not receive junk mail by being on a "No Junk Mail" list. Junk mail is not only extremely wasteful...but it's DAMN ANNOYING!!

Well, the USPS has its own ideas:

Postal Service spokesman Al DeSarro said half of the mail his agency handles is direct marketing mail, and reducing its volume could cost thousands of Postal Service jobs.

Ha. I got good chuckle out of that one. Forcing an unneeded or unwanted practice to stay viable is how we protect jobs? Hmmm. Maybe we should go back to gas lamps so that guy who walked around on stilts and attended to gas street lamps can have his job back. ;)

(BTW, Tarran at the Liberty Papers link does an excellent job of explaining the flaw in saying that such a bill goes against "free markets". Worth a quick read.)

Balko in his signature snarkiness:

This is terrific logic. Americans should be bothered with useless, unsolicited junk mail so that the USPS can continue to pay otherwise unneeded postal workers to deliver it. Makes sense to me.

I thus propose a federal "Agency for Digging Holes in Americans' Front Yards." Then, because of the holes-in-people's-front-yards problem that will inevitably result, I propose a second "Agency for Filling In Yard Holes."

These two agencies will create thousands of new federal jobs. And as we all know, new jobs are good for the economy.

Indeed. Perhaps they need some copies of Economic Sophisms over at the Post Master General's office....Chapter 3 on "Effort and Result" in particular.

Or maybe the The Candle Maker's Petition would do the trick...

Dear Gentlemen of the Assembly:

We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds -- in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat.

Be good enough, honourable deputies, to take our request seriously, and do not reject it without at least hearing the reasons that we have to advance in its support.

First, if you shut off as much as possible all access to natural light, and thereby create a need for artificial light, what industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?

I guess you can see where it's going. LOL. Oh Bastiat, you little rascal.

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The question might be does the junk mail subsidise the


cost of all mail.. I think the question might go beyond just jobs... It might cost jobs but raise cost also.. If that is true does it mean that stamps with increase. It reminds me of people who hate commercals what would tv cost without them.. They waste time and I would love not having them but I can't even fast forward past adds on DVD rentals... If adds pay for content then

Ask courageous questions. Do not be satisfied with superficial answers. Be open to wonder and at the same time subject all claims to knowledge, without exception, to intense skeptical scrutiny. Be aware of human fallibility. Cherish your species and yo

It's hard to say

John's picture

but I think the over-riding point is that without privileged positions to prop up inefficient practices, enterprising individuals find ways to meet unmet needs and preferences.

That would be like a "monopoly restaurant" fighting a bill that would allow customers to refuse a live violinist at their tables who pays the owner a small fee and then works off tips to offset it.

When you look at this way, nobody cares whether the owner makes out on the deal or not or whether the customers get a better price in the process. It's totally irrelevant. Our first inclination is to say:

Well, why don't the people just go to place that doesn't force to them to listen to a violinist regardless of any price difference (if any!)

Ahh, but they can't! Nor can we know what the adjusted competition based prices will be since we have no basis to make such judgments on in that context.

When we take goods and services that pretty much operate in a more of a free market and put them into scenarios and rules of a non-free market item, we quickly see how the arguments that respect the reality of the non-free market item don't have much meaning or realistic quality to them because we are aware of the alternatives.

Try putting shoes is this scenario and it becomes hard to respect the realities as a "given" that such a scenario would produce...because we know better.



"inefficient practices"? The Junk mail business pays to have their mail delivered, requiring a certain number of people to sort and transport the mail to the desired address. This is true regardless of whether the carrier is USPS, UPS or Fedex or whomever. It's not a true free-market because the CO gov is in effect trying to regulate it by refusing to do business with the junk mail clients.

I had discovered a great secret. That everyone loves themselves more than they love anybody else. And if I wanted them to love me, I better be like THEM!... Ken Nordine

Are any "markets" actually "free"?

Zelig's picture

I put those words in parentheses because they have many meanings. To my way of thinking, the only free markets I've ever encountered involved barter or buying stuff from the flea market, and now even some of the larger flea markets are regulated. Now that I think about it, your local illegal drug dealers seem to operate in a free market, and that's about it.

All other markets are regulated by the government, no? It seems to me that when folks like you, with a libertarian bent, speak of free markets, don't you really mean that you want them regulated like you want them, as opposed to the way the dumb lefties have regulated them. What am I missing here? Could you direct me to a link that can explain in a couple of paragraphs what you really mean by a free market? It's gotta be short and simple, because I'm one of those dumb lefties.

Me: We! -- Ali

Well, a couple of things

John's picture

drugs are not a free market....because they're not legal. In a free market, druggies could go to the local store and buy them over the counter without the risk premium of the black market.

That's like saying Capone operated in a free market for booz.

Beyond that, in your second paragraph, not only are you not really speaking to the point I made in the previous post but you're also blurring the basic concept of a free market as we know it in many goods and services we use. You're also talking past me in a way.

No need to be uncharitable or argumentative with the "dumb lefties" comment. I wasn't saying that nor was I being argumentative.

All I meant by a basic and elementary definition of free markets is one where individuals are generally free to act as buyers and sellers for goods and resources and alternatives uses thereof without restrictions on who may be a buyer or seller.

That's a pretty basic and wide definition that mail delivery does not fall into.

Now, we can go further and add more criteria to the point where NOTHING fits the definition but that's not where we are here. But we should consider that laws or rules that impede or distort the role of prices as info between buyers and sellers are usually the sign of less of free markets.

However,when, for the purposes of discussion, I say that restaurants or shoes are generally "free market" when compared to the mail services, it should be easily assumed that market entry and access are the basic differences that keep mail delivery from making the minimal standard of free markets.

I still don't get it.

Zelig's picture

So my "dumb leftie" comment still stands. Didn't have time to google, but I'll try again tonight.

I'm a big fan of capitalism, but it's got to be regulated closely. It's like a wild horse. And I'm one of those capitalists that thinks all infrastructure belongs in the public domain. Schools, fire and police, military, public health and the good old post office. I'm also a big fan of municipally owned utilities including water distribution. If Alberto Gonzales had acted a bit more like Harry Truman or Teddy Roosevelt as opposed to Tonto, hundreds of "private contractors" would be doing big jail time, Haliburton and Blackwater would be dissolved, nobody would miss them and we'd save a lot of money. If anybody ever gets to the bottom of this whole private contractor mess, and where all those billions have disappeared to, public pressure would demand we go back to the way we used to do things.

I'll read up a bit and get back to you if I learned anything.

Me: We! -- Ali

What's not to get?

John's picture

Your comment perplexes me. It has almost nothing to do with what I wrote.

Drug dealers don't operate in a free market


See the French Connection, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky & the Havana Conference, etc. etc. The drug trade is a mercantilist monopoly. :)

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes

It seems to me...

Zelig's picture

...that any true free market would devolve as you've described, unless the Government steps in to protect merchants from strongarm tactics.

But then again, I'm not sure what folks mean by a "free market", and I suspect that half the bloggers in the blogosphere that type out that term don't know what it means either. But that's just a suspicion.

I'll go google for awhile and see if it helps. The way I look at it, the scenario you describe is the inevitable result of any truly free market. Like Starbuck's with guns.

Me: We! -- Ali


John's picture

"first order" institutions are an important component of relatively free markets. These include the respect for private property and contracts that are enforced thru laws and courts. Coercive force, like with guns, are antithetical to free markets as is protection from fraud.

HankP keeps threatening to write on free market libertarianism


I wonder how his project's coming.

[Oh, almost forgot...HINT HINT.]

"Hell is truth seen too late." --Thomas Hobbes



But wouldn't the no-government-intervention line here come down on the side of the people who send "junk" mail? After all, if it were truly unwanted, unneeded, or not viable, it would stop all by itself.

The other day I heard that ignorance and apathy are sweeping the country. I didn't know that, but I don't really care.

See Liberty Papers link

John's picture

he addresses that issue.



I wasn't thinking libertarian-ly enough. :)

I suppose if you view the USPS as an abridgement of the right of every American not to receive mail and a drag on the free market, then laws designed to limit it make perfect sense.

The other day I heard that ignorance and apathy are sweeping the country. I didn't know that, but I don't really care.

That's not what he means.

John's picture

That's a little uncharitable on your part...:)

I have no problem with the USPS. I just don't think they should have monopolies on anything. If they can do everything cheaper and better, then private competitors that try to deliver our mail and meet our tastes and preferences along way won't stand a chance, right? Le them have at it. If they fail, they fail. We, as consumers, have nothing to lose.

I didn't mean to be uncharitable


I thought that was a fair characterization of his views. End the public support for USPS, privatize and away we go.

FWIW, I do think that is an extremely silly idea, we definitely have something to lose (our mail service!), and it must give even the most ardent libertarian pause to reflect that letter delivery has been handled by the public sector in every country and every age. The free market is great for most sectors, for some it's "meh" (utilities), and for others (the military, the mail) it's just plain ill-suited.

The other day I heard that ignorance and apathy are sweeping the country. I didn't know that, but I don't really care.