Freeman

ARTICLE

A Monopoly - and How to Break It

JUNE 01, 1970 by PAUL L. POIROT

The National Association of Letter Carriers has offered the people of the United States a co­gent lesson in how to break a monopoly: Simply refuse to work for the monopolist!

It’s a sad day in the "land of the free" when it comes to that: one monopolist squaring off against another to determine who shall rule. But there’s no further dodg­ing the facts. The United States today is not a land of the free. The United States Postal System is a gigantic monopoly. So is the Letter Carriers’ union. Both are typical institutions of the Welfare State—or whatever else one chooses to call coercive collectivism. These are simply the forms that govern­ment takes when it becomes the instrument for plundering peace­ful persons instead of protecting their lives and property.

A government that takes its orders from its letter carriers—those it puts in uniform to pass out relief checks and other goodies to the populace—is in grave dan­ger of toppling. Other men in uni­form must soon grasp the idea. It is a short step indeed from a let­ter carriers’ strike to a general taxpayers’ revolt. And who ever heard of a viable government that couldn’t collect taxes?

The Ides of March 1970 strike by postal employees has ended, but the lessons it affords remain to be learned and remembered.

"Business" by Coercion

The first lesson: Monopoly is a bad form of business. To be more precise, monopoly is a form of co­ercion rather than a businesslike attempt to satisfy customers. Let us not compound the confusion by referring to the United States Post Off¹ce as a business; it exists and operates exclusively upon the principle of coercion. Anyone re­fusing to use its facilities and de­liveries is nonetheless compelled to help pay for them. Nor may any­one legally compete against the Post Office to render mail delivery service for willing customers.

Aside from this coercive inter­vention, there is no reason why mail delivery could not function like any other business, with open competition to determine who can best serve willing customers and determine how the job can be done with optimum use of scarce re­sources.

It needs to be added, perhaps, that a competitive postal business could not function effectively to­day if it were prohibited from using any means of transportation other than horse-drawn vehicles. Such a condition would simply be another form of monopoly, a grant of special coercive power to horses. By the same token, a competitive postal business cannot function ef­fectively if confined to hiring from the closed membership of the Na­tional Association of Letter Car­riers, the strength of which de­pends upon a monopoly of coercive power granted and upheld by the government.

A Perversion of Government

The second lesson: Establishing monopolies and defending them is an improper function of govern­ment. It should take no more than a second—or a second thought—for any person of good will toward his fellow man to realize that he stands a better chance of survival with no organized police force at all than under a force dedicated to plunder.

This is no appeal for anarchy. Excessive and growing govern­mental activity tends to discour­age many devotees of the free market. And an increasing num­ber of them assume illogically that the only corrective is no govern­ment at all—philosophical anar­chy.

A logical case against govern­ment might be made if one be­lieved that all men have perfect understanding plus the ability and the inclination to behave properly under all circumstances. Nor would government seem feasible if all men were presumed too evil to be trusted with policing powers.

If one believes, however, that men, though usually reasonable, are also capable of acting injuri­ously toward others and are prone to try it upon occasion, it then seems logical to defend oneself against this evil tendency. Thus, reasonable men will try to codify their rules of conduct, to "raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair," and to organ­ize their defensive forces to con­stitute the government of their so­ciety. Its sole, logical purpose would be to suppress any outbreak of violence, fraud, or coercive threat against the life or property of any peaceful person.

How Competitive Private Enterprise Serves Consumers

What we may learn, then, from the Letter Carriers is that open competition is far more likely than a monopoly to satisfy the wants of peaceful persons anxious to earn what they receive from others. And we may learn that the serviceableness of government to men of good will depends upon its limitation to a defensive function and a refusal to grant or to sup­port monopoly privileges for any person or group.

To speculate on how the mail might be delivered by private en­terprise, if anyone were free to try, would be foolish. No one now can possibly imagine what innova­tions might spring from the un­restricted imaginations of every­one in search of better ways to serve consumers. All that is re­quired is a sufficient faith in the free market to abolish the govern­ment’s present postal monopoly and open the door to competitors.

As for any dissatisfied letter carrier, he ought to be free to seek better employment opportunities anytime he chooses. There’s no point in trying to hold a man to a wage contract if he thinks the wage is inadequate. Nor is there any point in putting him on pen­sion or relief or unemployment compensation if he quits one job before he has another or better source of livelihood. Nor should anyone be under obligation to hold open for him the employment op­portunity he has rejected; let other willing and capable appli­cants fill such positions at what­ever wage is mutually agreeable to employer and employee. Repeal the minimum wage and other work laws that now prevent wom­en and children, and perhaps some men, from earning as much as they are worth at delivering let­ters or otherwise serving willing customers.

Abolish these monopolies, open the market to competition, and protect the lives and property of peaceful persons instead of granting the special privileges sought by some at the expense of others. Let gov­ernment attend to its proper func­tion, and there need be no concern whatsoever about handling the mail in a businesslike manner, without strikes, slowdowns, break­downs, or other senseless and in­terminable disruptions.

Other Areas of Application

Once we learn that mail delivery is the business of business rather than of government, perhaps the lesson may also be applied in other areas now largely monopolized such as hospital service and care, education, certain branches of agriculture, various aspects of transportation and com­munication, some cultural and rec­reational facilities—yes, even those remnants of protectionism that still hang on to give all busi­ness activities a bad image.

But, if citizens persist in de­manding of government all sorts of services for which police power is unnecessary and incompetent, then more and more chaos such as the postal strike may be expected. And if history tells us anything, we ought to know that the people, in desperation, eventually will turn to a dictator to restore order.

 

—FOOTNOTES—

¹ William Paddock and Paul Paddock, Famine-1975! America’s Decision: Who Will Survive?

² Gordon Rattray Taylor, The Biologi­cal Time Bomb, p. 203.

³ Edward B. Espenshade, Jr. (editor), Goode’s World Atlas, 1970 edition, p. 189.

4 John Maynard Keynes, The Econom­ic Consequences of the Peace, p. 8.of the nineteenth century in spite of the fact they had a population explosion, too.

5 Chamberlain, The Roots of Capitalism, p. 123.

6 Garet Garrett, A Bubble that Broke the World, pp, 20-21.

7 Ibid., p. 49.

8 Punch, Sept. 28, 1966.

9 Richard M. Nixon, The Challenges We Face, p. 73.

¹0 L. Dudley Stamp, Land for Tomor­row, p. 219.

¹¹ Arthur McCormack (editor), Chris­tian Responsibility and World Poverty, p. 135.

 

***

The Myth of the Post Office

The myth of the Post Office Department—that its reason for being is the service it renders the public—is grounded in a well-advertised generality; that which can best be done collectively should not be done privately. That, however, begs the question. Why is the transmission of private messages peculiarly a gov­ernment function? How can we know that public operation is superior when private operation is prevented by the threat of punishment? And, if the postal business is best promoted as a collective instrument, must this instrument be implemented with police power, or could it be carried on by a private concern, pay­ing for the privilege on the basis of bids and depending only on public patronage for its livelihood? These are questions which the deficit-paying stockholders have a right to ask.

FRANK CHODOROV

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

June 1970

ABOUT

PAUL L. POIROT

Paul L. Poirot was a long-time member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education and editor of its journal, The Freeman, from 1956 to 1987.

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