This Christmas season, there are daily reminders that the world is changing.
Take a look at the number of email Christmas greetings filling the inbox on your computer while at the same time fewer and fewer seasonal greeting cards grace your mail box. All greetings are welcome, giving one pause to think of friends and acquaintances both near and far away and to catch up on 12 months of family news.
But the future of mail delivery at home is threatened by the changing marketplace for communication. Just across the border, Canada Post has announced that over the next four years it would eliminate home delivery of mail to the front doors of Canadians. At the same time, Canada Post received permission to stop making payments into its pension plan, which has a $6.1 billion shortfall, and raise the price of stamps.
Canada Post for the last several years has adopted a community mailbox system in newly built suburbs leaving just a third of Canadians relying on front door delivery.
The United States, just as Canada, has been struggling with the loss of mail volume and staggering retiree health care and pension costs. The major difference is that the U.S. Congress has saddled the postal service with extraordinary pension and health care contributions, causing the multibillion dollar deficits incurred by the postal system. Canadians appear unafraid to take on long-term traditions to achieve efficiency and lower tax payer supported costs.
Contrast recent cost-cutting history in Canada with that of the United States.
n Canada eliminated its $1 paper bills in 1989 when it minted the dollar coin affectionately known as a loonie. That was followed by substitution of the $2 coin for a $2 bill.
n This year, Canada has eliminated use of the penny. While all transactions are carried to two decimal places, cash payments are rounded to the nearest nickel.
What has happened south of the border?
n Congress has stonewalled requests to close rural post offices and eliminate Saturday mail delivery. To its credit, the Postal Service ended its endorsement of athletic teams after the ill-fated sponsorship of Lance Armstrong.
n Attempts to institute a $1 coin have been frustrated because government would not remove the $1 bill from circulation. Americans ignored the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the gold-colored Sacagawea coin. At the same time, the treasury squandered money printing scads of $1 bills, which wear out rapidly.
n The treasury ignores the cost of the penny and only tinkers with the costs of producing the coin itself, ignoring opportunity to round cash transactions to the nearest nickel.
And just why has our country ignored the efficiency of the $1 coin? For years, the Government Accountability Office has been telling Congress that billions of dollars would be saved by use of a $1 coin. But this week the Federal Reserve Board released a study contradicting that analysis, concluding that adopting a $1 coin would be more expensive than constantly printing new $1 bills.
The Federal Reserve study argues that the coins weigh too much. And guess who has been lobbying to keep the expensive $1 bill in circulation: banks and armored car companies. The banks complain that they would be forced to build new vaults and buy new equipment while the armored car companies are worried about additional fuel costs to haul the weighty coins around.
What the study ignored was the convenience factor to consumers who want to more easily buy a fare card to board a bus or subway or use a vending machine. That savings is estimated at $13 billion over the next 30 years, without even considering how much more efficient vending machines working with coins are than those that recognize paper currency.
America has much to gain from Canada other than cold winter air. Government should focus attention on changes that produce quantifiable results for taxpayers, not finding ways to mollify banks that incidentally are overburdened with too many offices today or armored car companies whining about fuel costs. Our postal service needs reform, and six-day delivery to nearly every address in America needs re-evaluation.
Canada is unafraid to engage in the debate that threatens sacred cows. There is much to be learned from that political resolve.