Kodak and the Post Office

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The news that Eastman Kodak is preparing to file for bankruptcy, after being the leading photographic company in the world for more than a hundred years, truly marks the end of an era.

The skills required to use the cameras and chemicals required by the photography of the mid-19th century were far beyond those of most people — until a man named George Eastman created a company called Kodak, which made cameras that ordinary people could use.

It was Kodak’s humble and affordable box Brownie that put photography on the map for millions of people, who just wanted to take simple pictures of family, friends and places they visited.

As the complicated photographic plates used by 19th century photographers gave way to film, Kodak became the leading film maker of the 20th century. But sales of film declined for the first time in 2000, and sales of digital cameras surpassed the sales of film cameras just 3 years later. Just as Kodak’s technology made older modes of photography obsolete more than a hundred years ago, so the new technology of the digital age has left Kodak behind.

Great names of companies in other fields have likewise vanished as new technology brought new rivals to the forefront, or else made the whole product obsolete, as happened with typewriters, slide rules and other products now remembered only by an older generation. That is what happens in a market economy and we all benefit from it as consumers.

Unfortunately, that is not what happens in government. The post office is a classic example. Post offices were once even more important than Eastman Kodak, and for a longer time, as the mail provided vital communications linking people and organizations across thousands of miles. But, today, technology has moved even further beyond the post office than it has beyond Eastman Kodak.

The difference is that, although the Postal Service is technically a private business, its income doesn’t cover all its costs — and taxpayers are on the hook for the difference.

Moreover, the government makes it illegal for anyone else to put anything into your mail box, even though you bought the mail box and it is your property.

That means you don’t have the option to have some other private company deliver your mail.

In India, when private companies like Federal Express and United Parcel Service were allowed to deliver mail, the amount of mail delivered by that country’s post offices was cut in half between 2000 and 2005.

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  • Amused

    Wrong Bunky , the USPS is NOT " a technically private buisiness " , it is a government service . It was not instituted to make a profit . The US Patent Office is a government service , it was not instituted to make a profit . Both were created by "the founding fathers " as so many of you love to say , for the greater good of the country , and yes just like the military , they are paid for by taxes . After all even the continental Army had to be paid ….or would you begrudge that too . I really hate yo pee on your parade , but there will always be a USPS , and that simply because there are millions of Americans who dont have computers or fax machines and never will . YES IT WILL BE STREAMLINED FOR EFFICIENCY . Yup , when we're placed in our graves lol….our elatives will STILL be sending sympathy cards to our survivors via USPS .

    • pyroseed13

      Hey Amused, here is an interesting idea for how to run a society: You want something, you pay for it. No need to have others subsidize mail delivery in high cost areas. There is also no reason not to suspect that a private company wouldn't arise that specifically targets those markets.

  • StephenD

    A few points: The USPS is Self-Sufficient in that the postage pays for all of its costs. No tax dollars go to the Post Office. Also, Congress has imposed upon the USPS to pay AHEAD into its retirement funds to the tune of 8+ Billion. No other Govt. Agency has had to do this. FedEx and UPS both pay higher salary than does the USPS. They can pick and choose and it is never a flat rate but by area, distance, etc. The USPS has its hands tied and MUST deliver to every household in the country at the same price.

  • StephenD

    If this changed and they could compete with their rates you'd find they are less costly than FedEx or UPS. They are top heavy. They have many offices that can and should close. But to suggest that its inefficiency is insurmountable is baloney. I used to work for the USPS. I HATE the USPS. Its upper management is like most companies where the "good ‘ol boy" network is in play. But they know their stuff. If they could determine and compete (do you realize they have to petition Congress to raise the price of a stamp?), BTW, Private companies (FedEx and UPS) CAN and DO deliver mail. Just not 1st class mail to the front door; if they could compete openly and let the consumer determine if the price is too high or worth it, they would fare well. If the consumer doesn't like the cost business will drop off. Let them loose. We in society may benefit from open competition.

  • Michael

    I don't like the idea of private companies delivering mail to my porch. When I order from UPS, I ask them to come on my porch. Mail is sent by people I may not like. How would I know the delivery person is legit and not just looking in windows? The USPS should change to a three days per week delivery system to save costs. Snail mail can't compete with instant electronic communications and shouldn't try.