Friday, December 27, 2013

UPS, FedEx, your late Christmas gifts, and the Grinch who stole functional government


UPS and FedEx have taken a justified drubbing in the press lately for failing to deliver Christmas packages in time for Christmas. Their excuse? Well, umm, there were more packages than they expected, and, err, they all came at the same time, and besides, the weather was bad. (Uh, UPS? That’s logistics.)

Both shipping companies deserve to have their ears boxed – not so much for their disgraceful delivery failures, as for false advertising.

For decades FedEx has told us to go to them “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

And UPS has cast itself as the “logistics” expert, first in a cloying jingle, now in a company slogan (“We love logistics”) both advertising lies delivering the implied promise of super competence.

But my beef with these two paragons of private enterprise is only secondary. I’m speaking up today for the United States Post Office, for the Constitution of the United States – and for the importance of the United States government being in and starting some businesses, rather then staying out of them.

A government post office
– and “original intent”

The founding fathers, from the very beginning, understood that some critical activities are too important to be left to private enterprise. Conducting war is one example. Can you imagine UPS and FedEx explaining to the American people, “Well of course the enemy has overrun and taken Florida. We had no idea there’d be so many of them, all coming at us at the same time.”

Two others examples of businesses that the founding fathers intended the government to be in are the maintenance and operation of a post office, and the construction of roads. You can find the provision for both in Section 8, Article 7 of the United States Constitution.

True, the United States Postal Service is a mess today. But for that you can thank the Republican crazies in Congress who can’t read (or at least who can’t read the Constitution) and who think that the government being in the mail delivery business is an abomination in the eyes of God and a violation of the original intent of our founders to put private enterprise in charge of absolutely everything.

Who's sabotaging the post office?
Kindly glance to the right.

You can't help thinking it's likely that the destructive “libertarian” right is deliberately trying to cripple and destroy the post office, either in obeisance to their crackpot theories that private enterprise does everything better, or in exchange for the legalized corruption of corporate campaign contributions by commercial delivery services.

Congress has crippled the USPS with a requirement to pre-fund pensions in a way that saddles the postal authorities with multi-billion dollar obligations that no private enterprise or other government department faces. And, since Congress gives not a nickel – not a nickel! – to this constitutionally mandated department of government, postal rates contantly get driven explosively higher.

Little wonder that so many people have opted to use the virtually free Internet for everything from utility bills to Christmas cards.

Meanwhile, if you sent your Christmas mail via the post office a few days in advance, the odds are powerful that your gift and cards got there. In fact they got there the next day, if you sent them by Priority Mail. If your Priority Mail pakage didn't arrive on time, you can enjoy a money-back guarantee. Try that with a non-governmental service like UPS or FedEx.

But there’s this odd thing about the USPS. Without dabbling in the mysto-magic of logistics, in somehow understands that mail gets very heavy shortly before Christmas (What a surprise!), and that meanwhile the weather in December starts to get bad in many parts of the country (Another surprise!) and plans accordingly. And remember, the USPS is operating with its hands tied behind its back by Congress.

Government, private enterprise,
and the Obamacare screwups

But…but…but what about the screwups in Obamacare? Well, the President and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services certainly screwed up royally on communicating the facts about that one, and ought to have their fannies whacked for constantly “adjusting” dates and deadlines for political purposes, which add to the confusion. But let’s trace the malfunction back to its original source.

Who did the website work? Why, private enterprise, in the form of a for-profit company called GCI Federal and its various subcontractors. And it turns out that like other private enterprises, GCI Federal has a significant history of screwing up what they do.

Oh, and let’s not forget who built our (now underfunded and crumbling) highway system, and our triumphs in space. Those were government programs. Yes, private contractors built the components for the moon shot. But they did so under NASA supervision and NASA, should you need reminding, is a government enterprise, not a private company.

The Congressional grinches may want to turn over the nation to private enterprise. God help us if they ever completely succeed. They do enough damage each day as it is.

As I’ve already said in this piece, most things are too important to be left to private entrepreneurs out to make a buck. Or a few billion buck. And those range from healthcare to playing Santa Claus with Christmas packages.

17 comments:

Roxie said...

Since the internet is the Post Office's competitor in terms of letter delivery, I would like to see the USPS offer internet service, maybe subscription wifi.

Since there is no profit motive, they could beat the pants off the current ISP's price-wise, as they do with FedEx & UPS. The service would be no worse than what is already on offer.

The New York Crank said...

Nice thought, Roxie, but I fear Congress won't let the USPS compete with commercial ISPs. Nor do they own the infrastructure.

A more important question is, since the Internet is an outgrowth of government programs in defense and government-funded scientific research to begin with, why was it allowed to fall entirely into the hands of private enterprise?

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank

aimai said...

Very good post, TNYC.

Victor said...

Ditto, what was said above.

Unfortunately, people won't start to beef about "privatized" mail service until Grandma and Grandma have to pay $25 just to send their grandkids Christmas and birthday cards that have $5 stuffed in them.

"You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

BH said...

I'm in full agreement on USPS vs FedEx & UPS. It rankles every time I think of the fact that for outta-the-way rural deliveries (i.e., less or not profitable), the pvts just let USPS do the dirty work.

However, re the ACA website: yes, GCI Federal screwed it up. As you pointed out, however, GCI already had a significant record of doing so - and yet, it got hired by DHHS to do this crucial job. Makes it harder to defend the Admin, as much as I try to do so.

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Examinator said...

TNYC,
well said indeed. as I've said b4 on many sites private enterprise isn't really any more efficient than Government ! it's just a matter of how you measure it i.e. what or whose benefit you choose to leave out of your calculation!!

In short there's no such a thing as a free lunch! it's about who pays for it.
And there is where I differ from most Americans and certainly all Republicans, IMHO the government is there to ensure Equity ( not necessarily equality [an impossibility] for we(?) THE PEOPLE not the inanimate business or just the capitalist "winners".
consider this say a privatised fire service or police..... histories of both has shown why and how these simply haven't worked.
even the supply of electricity is a case study in the failures of private enterprise in public services. Consider the lack of innovation in electricity generation then look at why!

Examinator said...

PS,
I maybe the Grinch, at least I have a tee shirt that says so. I simply don't understand why I should buy and receive gifts nobody needs, put up $&%@^!*$ decorations, my wife should slave over cooking all for some event that happens 14-15 times a year anyway ( we get together), just because it's in the interests of some capitalist. Why should we provide, indulge a cultural excuse for others to ignore each for the other 363/4 days.
And I DIDN'T steal the government! I suspect it's the other Xmas devotees ( me first capitalists)!
"Merry humbug and a happier rest of your lives" . :-)
from examinator ant and his nest mates to you all.

Tom239 said...

In fact they got there the next day, if you sent them by Priority Mail.
"Priority Mail Express" is the USPS next-day service, not "Priority Mail".

If your Priority Mail pakage didn't arrive on time, you can enjoy a money-back guarantee.
Priority Mail doesn't have that guarantee (Priority Mail Express does).

Try that with a non-governmental service like UPS or FedEx.
UPS and FedEx both have service guarantees.

Ten Bears said...

They may have "service guarantees", Tom, guarantees that failed. The US government is mandated by The Constitution to provide postal service. Period.

Dave said...

Speaking from experience:

I sold three Lowe Pro lights on Ebay, and shipped Priority. When the buyer didn't receive them, I contacted USPS to submit a claim. I recognized the guy's voice as one of the guys who works the counter at the PO near my house. :Let me check on it," he says. He calls back 15 minutes later; the lights are at the PO in the seller's town. Mystery solved!

I order 5 pounds of green coffee beans off Ebay, shipped UPS. I keep track on the UPS Tracking site. "Delivered", it says. No beans. I call customer service. "It was delivered,", says "Mike". I tell him I don't have them. "It says 'delivered', they were delivered." My neighbor from two houses down brings them to me the next day.

I collect coffee brewing devices. I buy a vintage Corning 4-cup dripolator off (guess where? Yup, Ebay), and it's shipped FedEx, from Michigan. I track it, as usual; when it gets to my town, I see: "On truck for delivery", then later: "Item broken, returned to seller". I have a pretty good idea what happened, so I call customer service, and basically get, "Oh, well."

semichorus said...

Last month I sent 40 pounds of books from the West to East Coast. Used Media Mail, what used to be called 4th class. The clerk said it would take 7-14 days.

Sent it on a Wednesday. Took the train to NYC. The books beat me-- they were on the doorstep Monday morning, three stories up.

Hooray, USPS!

Tom239 said...

They may have "service guarantees", Tom, guarantees that failed.
Read your original posting again. You suggested that getting your money back in the event of lateness was unique to the USPS, and it's not.
Every service misses delivery dates sometimes. I've had an overnight USPS package take three days (to an in-state address).

Without dabbling in the mysto-magic of logistics, in somehow understands that mail gets very heavy shortly before Christmas (What a surprise!), and that meanwhile the weather in December starts to get bad in many parts of the country (Another surprise!) and plans accordingly.
Every service makes adjustments in preparation for the holiday season. If the USPS did well this year, part of the credit goes to FedEx--as the USPS contracts with them for air transport. The USPS is FedEx's largest single customer.

Web shoper said...

I Just Need To Voice My Personal opinion based upon my personal experiences with the horrible, deplorable, lousy service offered by fedx titled fedx smartpost! What is "smart" about sending a package through eight different "facilities" from Ohio to TN......

Web shoper said...

I Just Need To Voice My Personal opinion based upon my personal experiences with the horrible, deplorable, lousy service offered by fedx titled fedx smartpost! What is "smart" about sending a package through eight different "facilities" from Ohio to TN......

Tom239 said...

I mailed a package on December 11, 2013. The clerk at the Post Office made an error typing, so the wrong ZIP was barcoded on the address label. A simple human error: very forgiveable.

Reasonable things that might have happened next: delivery (perhaps delayed a bit), or the package returned to sender.

But no. Three weeks later the package is still circulating in the USPS system. The tracking report, with as of today 51 scans showing it going anywhere but being delivered or returned, has to be seen to be appreciated.

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