Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Innovation

The customer goes online and chooses a face mask from those listed on the USPS Web Page and places an online order. Their order goes direct to the factory making the mask of choice where it is filled within minutes or less and dropped in the on-site USPS bin that is picked up several times a day. The USPS then delivers the order to the customer. The USPS could enhance its revenue stream by charging a very small fee for advertising on its Web Page

Background: For the last maybe five years I have, for the most part, limited my substitute teaching to AP and Honors Economics, Government, History, Physics, and Environmental Science. These are subjects where I can wing-it; take that late call where I know that there will not be a lesson plan. On my way in I thinking of subject matter related questions. I begin by asking the class where they are, then go Socratic asking questions that require that they apply what they have been studying. History took the longest to figure out the applied; I’ve shown some of how I do the History here at AB. I seldom lecture, don’t feel that I have to teach the subject matter; do want to help both the teacher and the students.

High Schools, desperate for ways to help their students succeed, can be too quick to fall for the buzzword economic solutions such as Entrepreneurship, Free Markets, … and offer them as panaceas without much justification. Both Entrepreneurship and Free Markets get my attention. If the students bring either of them up, I open it up to discussion then segue to innovation by pointing out that all Musk and Bezos did and are doing is asking how it should be. Something that they as students could do. The huge success Musk and Bezos enjoy comes from successfully implementing the changes. Walmart had asked the question of how it should be; Bezos saw what Walmart had done and asked the next logical question in re brick and mortar. I bring the class around to what’s next. I’ve no doubt that Bezos has fully realized that his warehouse model is already antiquated and that the next step is direct from factory as in my USPS example, that’s the way his mind works. Sorry Jeff, this time it goes to the USPS.

Comments (2) | |

Need proof changes at the USPS are slowing down the mail?

Here you go!

Save the Post Office is edited and administered by Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Hutkins (Steve) is the author of this commentary. (Angry Bear Blog has had a long relationship with both authors Steve Hutkins and Mark Jamison both of whom author the “Save The Post Office Blog.”)

Everyone knows the mail has been slowing down. News reports are filled with stories from postal workers and customers about delays. E-bay sellers are complaining about shipping problems with the USPS, and many say they have been switching over to private carriers. Talking Points Memo has an ongoing column based on reports from the field.  Ask anyone, and they can tell you about problems they’ve had getting a package or an important letter.

For a while, it seemed that the pandemic was causing these problems, and there’s no question that the surge in packages was a challenge for the Postal Service to keep up with.

But then came Mr. DeJoy, the new Postmaster General.

Within weeks of his taking office in mid-June, changes were being made at processing plants and post offices that appeared to be causing delays not just in parcel delivery but for letters and flats as well. In a memo to postal employees, DeJoy admitted it: “Unfortunately, this transformative initiative has had unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels.”

These “service levels,” aka “service performance,” refer to the percentage of the mail that is delivered on time, i.e., within the “service standard” for each type of mail. For First Class mail, the standard is 2 days for local mail and 3 to 5 days for regional & national mail. Marketing Mail has a service standard of 3 to 10 days. Typically, about 85 to 95 percent of the mail is on time, although in some cases the performance scores can be lower and the delays can go on for several days.

The Postal Service shares quarterly service performance reports on its website and with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), which posts them here. The most recent reports cover the third quarter, April 1 – June 30. This table based on those reports compares the third quarter performance for single-piece First Class mail in 2019 and 2020. It shows declines in near every district. In some, the drop was striking. Nationally, performance on 2-day mail dropped from 93.9 percent to 92.4; for 3-5 day mail, from 86.5 to 81.4 percent. Presumably, these declines were due to the pandemic.

As for what happened after June 30, the Postal Service hasn’t provided any details about the delays. It knows, of course, exactly how bad the delays are and where they are occurring, as reported internally in weekly performance reports similar to the quarterly reports. But these weekly reports are not shared with the PRC or the public.

One can, however, get a good sense of what’s in those weekly reports by looking at some charts that appear in two USPS presentations given earlier this month that were published on PostalPro, a website where the USPS shares information with its business customers.

As seen in the following charts show the on-time performance for the Pacific and Eastern Areas on a weekly basis for the past few months.  The charts prove that it’s not your imagination. The mail has clearly been slowing down since the beginning of July — dramatically.

Tags: , Comments (2) | |

Progressive politics and the pandemic

How will the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the police murder of George Floyd and other black people affect the political mood in the United States?  The libertarian-leaning economist Tyler Cowen suggested in March that the COVID-19 pandemic would mark the “death of the progressive left.”  It would erode support for key progressive goals, including redistributive economic policies and aggressive action on climate change.  He asked provocatively what we have heard about climate activist Greta Thunberg recently, and suggested that the pandemic will make protecting the climate “seem like another luxury from safer and more normal times.”

Cowen may be proved right, but progressives and Biden apparently did not get the memo.  Since Cowen wrote Biden has moved to the left and expanded his polling lead over Trump, and there are reasons to think the pandemic and the protests over police violence will shift the center of gravity in this country to the left.

There are some specific ways the pandemic is likely to increase support for the policy agenda of progressive Democrats.  The pandemic has highlighted gaps in our health care system that will likely increase support for universal health insurance.  The pandemic-induced recession may create an appetite for government spending to create jobs, including jobs to fight climate change.  Biden has proposed a massive green infrastructure program that polls well.  The plight of parents trying to balance work with the need to take care of children may increase support for childcare.  Covid-19 has revealed serious weaknesses in our aging unemployment insurance system, which seems ripe for a make-over.

These examples share a common logic that undermines the case for laissez-faire and may shift the mood of the country to the left in a fundamental and enduring way.

Comments (9) | |

Questions for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

Save the Post Office is edited and administered by Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Hutkins (Steve) is the author of this commentary.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been on the job just two months, but he can already boast of many accomplishments, including these:

  • He has become the subject of a review by the USPS Office of Inspector General concerning allegations of a conflict of interest over his investments and his controversial policy changes; the review may lead to an investigation.
  • He has provoked calls for his immediate resignation from Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin and Representatives Gerry ConnollyPeter DeFazio and Alma Adams, as well as 700,000 people on a MoveOn petition.
  • He has implemented changes to postal operations that are delaying the mail and heightening fears about the Postal Service’s ability to deliver election mail on time.
  • He has inspired 175 members of Congress to write a letter calling on him to reverse his overhaul of the Postal Service, citing the coronavirus pandemic and upcoming elections.
  • He has also inspired four House Republicans — Reps. Peter King, David McKinley, Brian Fitzpatrick and Daniel Webster — to join 80 House Democrats in signing a letter expressing “deep concerns” about DeJoy’s changes and calling for them to be reversed, and Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte have separately sent their own letters criticizing the mail delays.
  • He has caused U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. to call on the New Jersey Attorney General to convene a grand jury to investigate him for election subversion, and Arizona Secretary of State to ask the Election Integrity Unit of the Attorney General’s office to investigate him for deliberate delay of ballots.
  • He has spurred protestors to take to the street in front his house rallying against his complicity in Trump’s effort to suppress voting by mail.
  • He has demoralized thousands of postal workers by implementing changes they view as undermining the mission of the post office.
  • He has helped to undermine “the most trusted brand in the nation” and “America’s favorite federal agency.”

The Postmaster General needs to appear before Congress immediately, not a month from now, as currently scheduled, and he needs to speak to the American people in a press conference.  Here are some of the questions he should be asked.

Conversations with the president; When the president was asked about your cutbacks on August 9th, he said he hadn’t spoken with you, but news report later said you had met with him a few days previously, on August 3. How many times have you met with the President or spoken with him over the phone? Have you discussed mail voting in conversations with the president or with other members of the White House or Cabinet, including Secretary Mnuchin?

Comments (9) | |

RFL: Mark Jamison, Trump vs. The USPS & the Importance of Mail-In Voting

Contributor to Save The Post Office and Angry Bear blogs, Mark Jamison was interviewed and featured on Richard French Live, also can be seen on Meet the Press hosted by Chuck Todd, and later CNN. In this RFL YouTube, Mark gives all the reasons why we should be concerned with trump and Louis DeJoy tampering with the USPS and mail-in ballots.
President Trump has been attempting to sow the seeds of doubt before Election Day without evidence of issues resulting from mail-in voting which has been used successfully for absentee voting and other state voting. Suggesting ballot fraud and voting irregularities trump, republicans, and their followers claim it will result in a “rigged” by mail election if mail-in voting is used extensively now.

Meanwhile, we witness an overhaul of the USPS administration taking place with a new trump-politically-selected-PMG and new senior staff being put in place, the removal of additional resource to secure on-time delivery of ballots, mailboxes being removed from service in some states which use mail-in voting, OT being cut at the USPS office, etc. all done within ninety days of a national election. One has to wonder who is rigging the election and taking action to deter citizens from voting in a safe manner during a pandemic and making their vote count.

Former USPS Postmaster Mark Jamison discusses how and why Trump is attempting to destroy the Postal Service.

Comments (11) | |

Now

WWII was America’s finest hour. Before that, her multitude of sins had always been covered up by her bounty of natural resources, her yet unsettled land, … her offer of opportunity. There was room to grow, chances for people to start over, … In the lead up to, and during, the War, America stepped up. Then, the situation was well defined. Usually, it’s hard to discern what is going on at a given time; what is going on ‘now’. Before the War, we sometimes got away with not knowing what was going on ‘now’; could and did attribute success or failure to fate, to an invisible hand, … . Then, working class Americans couldn’t expect much more than the ‘short brutal life’. After the War, returning veterans weren’t willing to let their government off the hook that easy. They had fought and died for their Nation; now their Nation owed them, had to do better by its people. During the War, working class Americans who had been unable to find gainful employment during the Great Depression found gainful employment; learned that they were quite capable, knew what it meant to have money to spend. A new generation of leaders who had met people from all over the world, had seen how other people lived, stood ready to take over.

During those first few years after the War, America was blessed with her industrial capacity being left intact. She was production-ready when no one else was. Working-class Americans had money in their pockets from all those wartime jobs. They were looking to buy. The world; needing everything, looked to America. In the years following the War, the wealth generated by her production was plenty enough to pay off the War Debt and have some left over for the worker’s savings.

During the 1950s, there were warning signs; like recessions and stagflation. But defense, aircraft and automobile manufacturing, and all those exports, were still generating enough wealth to go around.

By 1965, Europe and Japan were becoming more and more self-sufficient. America, manufacturer to the world, began losing her markets; That was what was going on ‘now’, then. So, what to do?

In the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon to hear or read that the economy needed war. Business was inclined to blame it on the unions or taxes. Loss of markets was seldom heard. Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam raged on, costing dearly in ‘blood and treasure’. Then, as now, to most politicians, the economy is magic, works on fairy dust called forth with buzzwords; will self correct, …, … . LBJ may have been the best President since FDR at knowing what was going on ‘now’. He foresaw the consequences of 6.5 million southern blacks being displaced by the mechanical cotton picker. He knew that the time had come for Civil Rights, Medicare and Medicaid, The Clean Air Act, … He blew it with Vietnam; came from looking through the lens of the past, I suppose.

Comments (26) | |

Trump ally Louis Dejoy Making ‘high-risk’ changes at USPS

Trump ally making ‘high-risk’ changes at USPS, says former postal service deputy,” The Guardian, Sam Levine, August 12, 2020

I received a message from former NC Postmaster Mark Jamison and Angry Bear contributor about a brief interview he did with The Guardian for part of its story on the changes being done at the USPS by the new Postmaster General.

A former top official at the United States Postal Service (USPS) has warned about recent Louis DeJoy mandated changes being implemented just months ahead of the election which could “disenfranchise” Americans just as a record number of them are expected to vote by mail. Ronald Stroman, who stepped down earlier this year as the second in command at USPS, said “he was concerned about the speed and timing of changes that appeared to be implemented after Louis DeJoy took office in June.” Also, due to decreased business and a congressional manufactured liability of prefunding decades of future postal worker retirement now, the USPS faces a financial crisis. Ronald Stroman adds, “while every Postmaster General is interested in cost savings and efficiency, the question is how to balance those risky changes with the public’s needs.

As a supply chain and logistics consultant and manager, I find the timing of these changes to be unnecessary and incredibly dangerous. Processing and delivering mail during a pandemic is difficult enough due to workers becoming ill. Tossing functional changes in on top of the pandemic which people will have to learn is incredibility ignorant when much of the management has been let go or has left due to the politics of the management change. Furthermore, I doubt we will see “Louis” with sleeves rolled up on the line somewhere making sure the mailed-in ballots are clearly postmarked and delivered on time to their destinations. He has spent far too many decades sitting in an office issuing mandates elsewhere.

Angry Bear contributor and retired NC Postmaster Mark Jamison also contributed to The Guardian article stating the idea of leaving first class mail behind for latter processing, as proposed by DeJoy to reduce OT costs, which includes letters with a regular stamp – was anathema to the culture of USPS.

“The rule has always been you clear every piece of first-class mail out of a plant every day, period. There has never been, never, in the 30 years I worked for the post office . . . there has never been a time when you curtail first class mail.”

Comments (7) | |

Tiny Homes – A ‘Fundamental Shift is Occurring’

Site Plan. Escape Tampa Bay Village, Tiny Homes, Dan Dobrowolski

A recently purchased, rundown, 1 acre mobile home park is redesigned by a tiny house manufacturer into a site for tiny homes. Dan Dobrowolski of “Escape” has been building tiny houses and giving them a place to go for a while.

Now during the Corona epidemic Dan Dobrowolski has opened a new development and naming it Escape Tampa Bay Village. It is a real demonstration of how tiny houses have come of age and utilize a smaller footprint than what is found in subdivisions today. The one acre former trailer park is home to ten tiny homes. Rather than asphalt pavement occupying much of the park, shrubbery and trees add to the landscaping creating a natural area. Occupancy is limited to the tiny homes manufactured by Escape.

With the advent of the Corona virus epidemic, Everything changed overnight. The people who would never consider living in a Park Model mobile home in a trailer park suddenly are seeing a tiny home in a community of like-minded people to be an attractive proposition.

Dan: The trend is so strong now for 1) escaping crowded housing and 2) just escaping major metro areas like NYC, LA & SFO, it is almost overwhelming. This is a major shift  .   .   .  we’re seeing this all over the US with buyers.

If this sounds like a commercial, it really is a commercial, a commercial for smaller homes which can be moved from place to place when needed or if desired. I believe this is the mode which may better suit up and coming younger generations who do not have the funds to acquire a traditional home like their parents did in suburbia. It is also gives them an option of not living in crowded cities and away from today’s virus. So, what doe the floor plan look like?

Their are floor plans on site.

 

A ‘Fundamental Shift is Occurring’ as People Flock to Tiny Homes,” Treehugger, Lloyd Alter, August 5, 2020

Comments (8) | |

Fed Deficit Leaps From Under 5% of GDP last year to 15% Now

In the second quarter, the federal deficit leaped from under 5% of GDP last year to near 15% now. This is new record compared to the prior record of almost 10% of GDP that Obama inherited from Bush

Yes, falling nominal GDP played a role, but a weak economy always plays a role in setting new record deficits.  But in considering what new stimulus Washington comes up with it will serve us well to remember that the new base line already starts at 15% of GDP.

While economists and others are debating the shape of any economic rebound we may  happen to experience, it might serve you well to remember Japan’s lost decade.  It was dominated by the government repeatedly providing stimulus with one hand while simultaneously taking it away with the other hand   All the while this was accompanied by new record government deficits.

Maybe what we learned from Japan is that government can stop the economy from collapsing, but to get the economy growing again could be a very different issue.

Comments (7) | |

The UI fiscal stimulus

Apropos my previous post, a new NBER paper by Casado et al estimates the effect of pandemic unemployment benefits on local spending:

The FPUC supplement to unemployment insurance of $600 ended at the end of July 2020. Prior to its expiration, the average weekly benefit paid was $812, which would fall to $257, implying a decline in the replacement rate of 68%. The replacement rate was roughly 1.25 in the latest data, so the new replacement rate would be roughly .4, all else equal. At the unemployment rate of .077 in the latest data, spending this reduction in benefits would lead to a decline in spending of 44%. If the FPUC supplement is reduced to $200, the replacement rate would fall by 44%. The implied reduction in spending from these benefits would be 28%. Even if the FPUC supplement is reduced to $400, the replacement rate would fall by 19% and spending would fall by 12%. Thus, substantial declines in the generosity of UI benefits are predicted to have dramatic adverse effects on local spending.

Sure, you can question the results, and wonder about the size of multipliers, but this could be a disaster and the only reasonable policy choice is to extend the UI benefits.

Comments (10) | |