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Mother of Mercy, is this the end of the Post Office? My New York Post column today takes a look:

It may be the perfect metaphor for America, 2011: The US Postal Service — one of the few government agencies actually authorized by the Constitution — is about to go bankrupt.

The USPS traces its roots back to 1692 but has seen its core business usurped by e-mail and nimble private parcel-delivery services — and, worse, is being crushed by exorbitant labor contracts and onerous government regulation.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahue warns he can’t make a congressionally-mandated $5.5 billion health-care-benefits payment for future retirees that’s due at the month’s end, and says the USPS faces total insolvency a year from now — perhaps even sooner. When the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, the post office may have as little as a week’s worth of cash on hand — about $1 billion.

And that’s the good news.

Yes, postal services are mentioned right there in good old Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which explicitly authorizes Congress “to establish Post Offices and Post Roads,” as opposed to, say, Obamacare. But the future looks grim:

But the USPS, semi-privatized in 1971, is squeezed by the worst of both worlds: With no taxpayer subsidies, it must self-finance via stamp sales and shipment charges — even as its employees partake liberally of government health-care, worker’s-compensation and retirement funds, into which the Post Office must pay.

The publicly financed gravy train was great while it lasted. But public-employee “retirement” was never intended to be a 20-year (or more) vacation at taypayers’ expense — a kind of golden-years “entitlement” for just doing your job.

The financial crisis has forced private-sector workers to come to grips with reality. These days, nothing is permanent, and the future does not come with a guarantee. If you want to “retire,” you’d better be prepared to pay for most of it yourself, or keep working until you drop.

Naturally, there’s a clamor to “save” the USPS with the usual roster of accounting tricks. But until the fundamental issue is addressed — the sheer unsustainability of the entitlement schemes — the poor P.O. is…

… simply the canary in the coal mine, about to turn blue and keel over.

 

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.

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