Quoth the Postman, Forevermore

The USPS is preparing for another first class price jack to 45 cents. It would be their 14th in 32 years, and is meant a) to compensate for lost revenue to web-based communication and private mail services, and b) to pay for the soaring gas costs. To buffer public response, the USPS proposed issuing a Forever Stamp---good for first class postage at the current rate ad infinitum.

There are many reasons this news bit is interesting, despite its seeming triviality. First, it's a bit funny to imagine the USPS lasting forever---although bureaucracies do tend to inertia, the USPS is probably the self-destructing type in good time. (Picture Americans lining up in droves like Russian commrades to hoard forever stamps and await the coming days of inching first class costs.)

Second, the randomness is just a little funny; CNN.com headline: "New stamp could be used forever" (alternate subtitle: 'what about the chidlren?', 'the answers may surprise you...', 'Elvis alive!') --it's just the right combination of mundane and bizarre to come straight out from the national inquirer.

Third, this is an institutional innovation that may prove useful. If successfully passed, the forever stamp will incite a counterfeit market shortly. After 2009, the USPS plans to raise postal rates every year. If not passed, it may at least successfully quell opposition to the standard rate increase---long enough to pass it.

Some other comments on repairing the USPS system: unfold the tight labor-wage laws that are bracketing costs while consumption of the service declines. From the Baltimore Sun:

"Postmaster General John E. Potter implied as much when he noted that despite a reduction in employees, "our annual health benefits costs have grown some $2 billion - or 36 percent - since 2002." Today, about 80 percent of Postal Service costs go toward labor, compared with about 50 percent at private delivery companies."
When the USPS introduced the stamp price increase for January, Ruth Y. Goldway, the Postal Rate commissioner, wrote a NYT op-ed saying that the forever stamp "would do a great deal to help consumers adjust to rate increases, as well as assisting the Postal Service in managing its budget and investing in improvements. In recent years the service has been working to shed its image as a stodgy, unresponsive government monopoly. I urge it to consider the forever stamp and adopt it as a pro-consumer, money-saving reform."