Econlib

The Library

Other Sites

Front Page arrow Quotations arrow Other Quotes arrow Week of 15 December, 2008

Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

As Christmas approaches the Scrooges amongst us like to point out that criticising the state monopoly postal system at this time of the year has a distinguished history. Here we have another essay by a member of the radical laissez-faire and individualist organization The Liberty and Property Defence League railing against some defect in state run enterprises. The problem emerges because entrepreneurs in the free market develop new products such as sending cards on St. Valentine’s Day or encouraging gift giving at Christmas time which puts a huge load on the government monopoly postal service. If it were a private business (or businesses) they would leap at the opportunity of new customers. Robertson mocks the post office for its inability to cope with changing market conditions.

15 December, 2008

static/Mackay_0209_TP.jpg

Edward Robertson points out the bureaucratic blundering and inefficiency of the Postal Monopoly during the Christmas rush period (1891)

Read the full quote in context here.

Thomas Mackay in 1891 edited a collection of essays attacking the Fabian Socialist ideas of George Bernard Shaw. In one essay Edward Robertson complained about the inefficiencies of the government postal monopoly at Christmas time

In the first place, the Post Office has always been a monopoly. There never was a time when any private agency was permitted to compete with the State in the work of distributing letters. … I cannot refrain from noticing the breakdown of letter-delivery arrangements which has taken place at Christmas every year since the Christmas card came into fashion. … One would think that if, by the mere fact of belonging to a department of Government, a preternatural faculty of dealing with statistics were conferred upon officials, the officials of the Post Office ought, after a brief experience, to have been able to foresee and provide for this recurring difficulty. Yet no sooner does Christmas come within measurable distance, than every Post Office is placarded and every newspaper filled, with plaintive appeals from the Postmaster-General to the Christmas card dispatching public, to ‘post early, so as to ensure the punctual delivery of letters!’

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

In the first place, the Post Office has always been a monopoly. There never was a time when any private agency was permitted to compete with the State in the work of distributing letters. There has therefore been no opportunity of comparing State work in that department with private work. In the second place, the work of distributing letters is, after all, comparatively simple. We are accustomed, it is true, to hear and read of feats of great ingenuity in discovering obscure addresses; but these are he exceptions. It is in the department of letter-carrying, at all events, that the principal successes—it might almost be said the only successes—have been achieved. The telegraphic department is not a success either financially or administratively. The letter department largely supplements the cost of the telegraph department. In other words, people who write many letters, but send few telegrams, are made to pay for the accommodation afforded to the senders of many telegrams. Even in the letter-carrying department, there is plenty of room for improvement. It is very well managed, on the whole, in country places; but in London, and in large towns generally, the delivery of letters within the town leaves much to be desired. In this connexion I cannot refrain from noticing the breakdown of letter-delivery arrangements which has taken place at Christmas every year since the Christmas card came into fashion. The breakdown under the weight of exceptional complimentary correspondence is not even of our own day; for Charles Lamb, in his essay on Valentine’s Day, writes of ‘the weary and all-for-spent twopenny postman.’ But, of course, in the vast proportions of the Christmas crush, it is necessarily modern, and the creation of the penny and halfpenny postage. One would think that if, by the mere fact of belonging to a department of Government, a preternatural faculty of dealing with statistics were conferred upon officials, the officials of the Post Office ought, after a brief experience, to have been able to foresee and provide for this recurring difficulty. Yet no sooner does Christmas come within measurable distance, than every Post Office is placarded and every newspaper filled, with plaintive appeals from the Postmaster-General to the Christmas card dispatching public, to ‘post early, so as to ensure the punctual delivery of letters!’

[More works by Edward Stanley Robertson (? – —)]