May 11, 2012

Saving The Pony Express

You've no doubt heard or read the history of the Pony Express. Romantic, adventerous, but ultimately, short-lived.
The Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors. Plans for the Pony Express were spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail. The service opened officially on April 3, 1860, when riders left simultaneously from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. The first westbound trip was made in 9 days and 23 hours and the eastbound journey in 11 days and 12 hours. The pony riders covered 250 miles in a 24-hour day.

Eventually, the Pony Express had more than 100 stations, 80 riders, and between 400 and 500 horses. The express route was extremely hazardous, but only one mail delivery was ever lost. The service lasted only 19 months until October 24, 1861, when the completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for its existence. Although California relied upon news from the Pony Express during the early days of the Civil War, the horse line was never a financial success, leading its founders to bankruptcy. However, the romantic drama surrounding the Pony Express has made it a part of the legend of the American West.
What happened? The Pony Express was a response to a need, but the timing of the response was a bit late.  The Pacific Telegraph line was the future, not to mention 8 years later the Transcontinental Railroad.  The Pony Express went bankrupt because the rationale behind it was essentially obsolete within 19 months.

Why does this matter now?  Two words: Post Office.  Liberals are 'oddly' stuck in a conservative nostalgia for the post office.  They weep and wail that we can't possibly let the post office fail.  Of course what they mean is government employees and union members can't be neglected.  And Obama forbid, it would mean reducing the bureaucracy and to, the deficit they seem to hold so dearly.

But the Post Office is no longer economically viable.  It's the opposite of a cash cow - it's a cash leech.  Via Government Executive:
The U.S. Postal Service is running out of time to address its fiscal crisis, as the agency's top official expects to be $10 billion in the red by the end of the month. 
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told lawmakers on Tuesday that the agency will default on its obligation to prepay its retiree health benefits account and reach its statutory borrowing limit by the end of September unless it receives immediate relief. 
After paying $1.3 billion in workers' compensation liabilities in October, the agency will have just one week's worth of cash to cover operational expenses. USPS expects $9 billion in losses next year. By September 2012, the Postal Service likely will be unable to pay its employees and contractors, according to Donahoe.
Conservatives meanwhile, are more than happy to let the USPS fail.  After all, we now have cell phones, the internet, email, fax machines, satellites, television, FedEx and a myriad of other ways to transmit information across the nation.  And there isn't, from true conservatives any sort of hypocrisy - so many of us wanted the government to let GM fail, and let California fail, for their foolish decisions.  There's no inconsistency.

Mind you, Democrats have been consistent too - they wanted to bail out GM the unions back during the stimulus debates.  But at some point shouldn't they realize that they can't appease every interest group with unsustainable payoffs forever?  Forget I asked that.

The USPS though is the latest example of the buggy whip industry as so well explained by that villainous Larry the Liquidator played by Danny De Vito in Other People's Money.


Larry was right, though in the movie he was ultimately defeated by the supposed apple pie notion of keeping bad businesses in business. Like the Pony Express, the USPS has become a buggy whip industry. Yes, there's something Norman Rockwell about it, but not to the same level as say, the traditional definition of marriage.
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