We Really Are Number One!

Save the Postal ServiceMatt Yglesias reports on a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research on the quality of mail service in 159 countries. They sent international letters to nonexistent addresses and measured how quickly the letters came back. Many countries have systems that are so dysfunctional that none of them were returned within a year. However, four countries returned all the letters within three months: El Salvador, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and—wait for it—the United States.

Those three countries are all quite small: the Czech Republic has about 10 million people, El Salvador has 6 million, and Luxembourg—more a city than a country—has half a million. So of all the major countries (I’m talking to you, Germany!) the United States appears to have the most efficient system.

This comes as no surprise to me. The United States Postal Service is fantastic. I often think this is why conservatives want to destroy it. Sure, part of it is wanting to inflate the profits of Federal Express and UPS. But mostly, the USPS is a shining example that their contention that the private sector is always better is just bullshit.

In fact, Yglesias even discusses this point in his article.

What’s interesting here is that good performance is strongly correlated with general indicators of economy-wide management skill. Countries with higher-ranked business schools, better-educated managers as revealed by census data, and high scores on surveys about managerial willingness to delegate and capacity to innovate all do well at delivering the mail. In other words, politics may matter less than you think, and “the government” isn’t that different from the private sector. Well-managed, high-productivity postal services exist in the same place as well-managed, high-productivity private enterprises. Given this, it is also not surprising that they found no difference in efficiency between countries that have government postal monopolies and those that have competitive mail delivery.

Liberals need to stop apologizing for the government. In my experience, most of the government works extremely well. Even the DMV has gotten rather good over the last couple of decades. Conservatives have nothing they can point to and no arguments they can make. Instead, they just spout slogans like, “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Well, two can play at that game.

Conservatives are the problem, not the solution.

And I can back up that claim with argument and data!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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