Friday, February 13, 2015

"Our Democratic Right"

Wants, needs, and our government

In yesterday's Washington Post a group named A Grand Alliance placed a full-page ad "to save our public postal service". The line in the ad and our their website that caught my eye was:
A strong public Postal Service is our democratic right.
I posted that quote without comment on my Twitter feed; I got more retweets and favorites on that post than anything I've ever tweeted. My guess is that the retweets and favorites came from Twitter users who agree with the quote. I don't.

It is my democratic right to vote for my elected official because I am an eligible voter. Because the U.S. Constitution specifies that "Congress shall have the power ... To establish post offices and post roads". I guess – for some people – that translates into a right to universal mail service. I disagree.

And that's OK. We can disagree about the types and levels of public goods and services our government provides at the federal, state, and local levels. Our Constitution is a wonderful document, in part, because it gives us tremendous flexibility on deciding what we want from the government via our proxy to elected officials. When the Preamble states "promote the general Welfare" we the people are given wide latitude to enact laws that do so.

There are a whole lotta people who will strongly disagree with that last sentence. They will argue that the Constitution strictly limits what the Government can provide. I argue that the Constitution codifies my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – however I may define happiness. And I pay taxes to the government with the expectation that I will receive some basket of goods and services in return. I may not like or want all the stuff in the basket but, hey, there are a lot of channels on cable that I don't like or want either.

In general I think our federal government is too big and does too much for a lot of entrenched special interests. And I think Congress has surrendered – to the detriment of the "general Welfare". I'm not picking on the U.S. Postal Service; if you read this blog you know I pick on a whole lot of people and groups that seek favor or free rides. In fact I was pleasantly surprised to see a USPS truck in my neighborhood on a Sunday delivering packages; that's a great use of existing infrastructure.

And I know that letter carriers and other postal workers work hard to deliver to my mailbox six days a week. But save for the holiday card blitz, I use maybe one Forever stamp a month. I don't need six-days-a-week mail; every other day works just fine for me. And I understand that many small towns see their money-losing small post offices as hubs, as glue for their communities. But it makes sense to consolidate smaller outlets and spend the money more effectively elsewhere.

Look – I'm no Constitutional scholar. There are probably over 300 million different opinions in the United States about what our government can and cannot do. But we have to separate our wants, needs, and rights. Otherwise we may forget what's most important and what we must defend.