The Postal Service wants to Break Your Windows
State lawmakers in Colorado are considering a bill to establish a do-not-mail list. The Denver Channel reports:
Rep. Sara Gagliardi (D-Arvada) said her measure would allow fines against companies that send mail to people on the list. She and other supporters said the list could help cut down on identity theft and help the environment.
“The statistics are just overwhleming. Ninety-million pounds of junk mail a year. It costs somewhere between $2 and $4 million to clean it up,” Gagliardi said.
Even without a state law, there are some things you can do to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. However, nothing is so encompassing as a law that would actually fine companies. Of course, the Postal Service opposes the law:
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.
In 1850, Frédéric Bastiat wrote of a little boy who breaks a shopkeeper’s window. Observers point out that the shopkeeper will now buy a new window from the glazier, who will use the money to buy bread from the baker, who will use the money to buy shoes, and so on. Thus, they say the little boy has actually done a good thing for the economy. What they forget is that the shopkeeper himself may have used that money in other ways – perhaps to replace his own old shoes or to buy a new book for his library. This is known as the broken window fallacy.
The point is that purposely creating problems to cause economic activity is not a net benefit – you’re just moving money around rather than creating new wealth. And although we can’t blame the Postal Service as the cause of all our junk mail, we can definitely call them out on invoking a well-known 150-year-old economic fallacy to try to sustain pointless jobs. As a friend of mine pointed out, you can follow that same line of reasoning to justify the creation of an agency to dig holes in people’s yards and then another agency to solve the problem of yard holes.
We don’t need to pay taxes to support pointless USPS jobs delivering wads of paper that go right in the garbage and then pay more taxes so the city can dispose of all the extra trash. Efficiency is good, and a Postal Service with thousands fewer employees would be a huge improvement, not to mention less of my time wasted and less garbage. Nice try, Postal Service.