ND Expert: A democracy cannot exist without a post office

Author: Shannon Roddel

James O'Rourke

The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that it lost $5.2 billion in its third quarter, adding to calls for Congress to help the agency, which is vital to any democracy, according to business communications expert James S. O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame.

O’Rourke says the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service began long before the Internet age and are much the same as those experienced by U.S. automakers, manufacturers and other large, complex organizations.

“They have huge infrastructure support costs, enormous pension obligations, and an unmanageable health care legacy,” O’Rourke says. “All of those issues must be controlled for the USPS to survive. It’s important that the Postal Service does survive, though. First, all of the revenue loss associated with the disappearance of first-class and overnight package delivery service will not be made up by increasing rates on bulk mail items. Our postal service is simply going to have to become smaller, more efficient and more self-reliant. That means USPS employees will have to share some responsibility for their health care costs and learn to manage a 401(k) like many other workers.”

O’Rourke says claims that we can do without a postal service because everything now moves by email on the Internet are simply false.

“The Pew Research Project on the Internet and American Life has documented that 33 percent of Americans have no connection to the Internet,” O’Rourke says. “The figure rises to something near 60 percent globally. Smartphones and cellular technology will eventually provide many people with a cheap, efficient connection to the Internet, but that’s no substitute for regular mail delivery. We simply cannot run a democracy without a post office. Technology has changed some of the ways in which we connect with one another, but it hasn’t entirely eliminated the need to move paper and other objects through the mail. Private sector competitors simply cannot provide the same level of service at the same price point, particularly in non-urban settings.”

Contact: O’Rourke, 574-631-8397 or jorourke@nd.edu