Paul Jacob

Yesterday’s front-page Washington Post headline screamed: “Proposal to slash horse & buggy jobs blasted by unions.”

The Post went on to discuss a plan by horse-and-buggy management to “lay off 120,000 workers,” a move that “would further wound an already ailing labor movement.” Horse-and-buggy unions pleaded that “workers have made many concessions” previously “in an age of dwindling rider volume.”

Wait a second . . . did I write “horse & buggy”? Heavens! I meant to write “postal,” as in the United States Postal Service. Just switch the word “postal” for “horse & buggy” and all is well.

Or not so well.

Apparently, just as the with the long-suffering horse-buggy sector of the economy, the Postal Service “is a storied institution that is struggling with stiff competition, declining demand . . . and a conflicted identity.”

I’m not certain what to prescribe for “a conflicted identity.” I’m not a licensed psychiatrist. But in business it is important to be focused, rather than “conflicted,” on products and services with actual profit-making demand from modern-day, living customers.

Though the recession has certainly been a factor in reducing demand, in both the case of buggies and that of mail delivery, the bigger problem is strong competition that has been stripping away consumer demand for decades. All the while, our conflicted elected officials have done little to nothing in effectively protecting the buggy business from the onslaught of the automobile and the subway. Likewise, the Post Office cannot simply hit the kill-switch to block bill-paying over the Internet or thwart human communication via basically free email and very inexpensive phone service.

Of course, the horse-and-buggy folks have one critical advantage over the postal people: Congress is not part of the management team at Buggies R Us.

The Post Office should be so lucky.

“Since 1970,” reporters Alec MacGillis and Lisa Rein inform, “the Postal Service has operated as a quasi-private monopoly that receives virtually no taxpayer support but is hamstrung in competing with companies like FedEx and UPS because it cannot raise prices above a certain level, must maintain minimum levels of service and must now make the annual retiree payments.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.