Good News: Royal Mail Edition

Looks like almost two centuries after the US government muscled out private competition in letter carrier services, such as Lysander Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, the UK may offer up competition to Royal Mail a full year earlier than previously planned.

In fact, this is part of a larger European Union policy of opening up competition to national mail services. It at first seems strange that the EU should be fostering competition, as they are known for overweening bureaucracy and propping up France’s agriculture and aerospace markets with anticompetitive measures, but in the larger, original mission of the EU, it makes sense. Having letter mail still being handed off from government monopoly to government monopoly is an atavism in the age of greater political and economic integration.

A cynical part of me (OK, so pretty much most of me) thinks that this is an easy end-run around the problem of a declining need for non-parcel post. With DHL and FedEx delivering everything from furniture down to legal documents and e-mail making the personal letter an anachronism, there is not going to be enough work for the postal infrastructures devised in the 19th century. So rather than take the political heat for directly cutting those services and turning out legions of postal employees, the EU is providing a fig leaf of competition so governments can point to the big, bad market as the reason they’re having to sack Kevin Costner. (Side note: I searched for a better-known example of a postal employee and thought I’d use Mr. McFeely (“Speedy Delivery!”) from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but it turns out the most popular postal character for children in America is in fact an employee of a private package delivery service.)

Either way, this should improve and reduce the cost of postage in Britain, unless the EU and/or Labour come up with onerous new regulations to make things less efficient than they were. But one can hope, and that’s more than we have with the alleged free-marketers in place in the US.