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Postal Policy in the CSA

By Matthew Yglesias on September 15, 2010 at 5:27 pm

"Postal Policy in the CSA"

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Something I often puzzle over is why we’re supposed to believe that conservative ideas will produce prosperity when the portions of the country most governed by conservative ideas tend to be least-prosperous. Relatedly, Ta-Nehisi Coates brings us some insights from Drew Gilpin Faust:

Confederate statesmen believed that any subsidization of the mail would represent an unwarranted support for the nation’s commercial interests. Thus postal rates reflected actual costs, a policy that sent the price of stamps skyrocketing after secession…Despite its high cost, mail delivery was far from reliable and southerners reported instances where service was interrupted for months at a time.

Somewhat awkwardly for the purposes of the polemical point I’m trying to make here, I’m open to postal privatization in the contemporary United States along the lines being implemented (PDF) in Europe. But were I to make that case, I’d start by observing that mail delivery isn’t critical telecommunications infrastructure in 2010 the way it was in the 19th century. Back in the 1860s, however, it most certainly was critical infrastructure! And in either case, there’s actually a large difference between the question of whether a service should be subsidized and whether service delivery should be in private hands—SNAP (“food stamps”) is, for example, a subsidy for retail purchases of food but we don’t have government-run grocery stores for poor people.

Which is all just to say that investment in infrastructure and public services is important and always has been.

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