I’m just old enough to remember the concept of mailing a letter for less than a dime – maybe even a nickel.  And frankly, 41 cents for coast-to-coast delivery of a card that warms the heart of a loved one is an amazing deal.  Anyone who travels the world knows that like so many other privileges of the United States, day-to-day our nation enjoys comparatively affordable postal service.

Why then does everyone get so worked up when postage rates are hiked by two cents every year or so?  I’d argue it’s the spin.  And frankly, we’ve fallen for it.  Just this week the U.S. Postal Service proclaimed sales of the Forever stamp already surpassing the one billion mark. 

A quick review of USPS press releases issued with recent price hikes reminds us of the rhetoric that got us into this pattern of forever increasing postage rate hikes.

The headline of the USPS announcement of May 14, 2007 proclaimed: “Shaping a More Efficient Future.”  Readers quickly learned the postal service introduced new domestic prices that reflect changes in our operations and the marketplace, offers more choices, and creates a more efficient mail system that keeps overall costs as low as possible.”  Seems like “The new rate is 41 cents, pay it and get over it.” would have made for a better lead sentence.

In 2005, a year when rates did not increase, the USPS announced, Postage rates will not increase until 2006, promises Postmaster General John E. Potter, citing aggressive cost cutting efforts that allowed the U.S. Postal Service to save $8.3 billion over the last three years.  “The Postal Service will continue to focus on the strategies identified in our Transformation Plan, and we will continue to deliver the plan’s commitments ahead of schedule,” said Potter.

This pronouncement came when stamps were 37 cents.  Clearly, something did not get fully “transformed.”  But we should not be surprised considering that it is easy enough also to download the 2002 and 2003 versions of the “USPS Transformation Plan delivered to Congress.”

We just don’t believe the postal bureaucrats.  They should keep the gory adjectives of transformation to themselves.  Like every other massive organization that combines old and new infrastructure with vast competitive alternatives for sharing information, they are struggling.  But they are getting smarter – especially with the spin.

With the hike to 41 cents in May came the ultimate USPS spin — the Forever Stamp.  “Buy it now – use it forever.” 

In other words, postage rates will continue to increase – FOREVER — in spite of transformation plans, the Internet, and competitive alternatives.  

Yes, America, let freedom ring from the upper right hand corner of your greeting cards and gas bills as the Liberty Bell emblazoned stamps remind us that in the United States of America three things in life are certain – death, taxes, and postage increases. — Shawn Kahle