Dear friends and readers,
Written on behalf of 34 years of Trollope’s life in public service on behalf of a corruption-free post office: This is prompted by a brief column in this week’s Progressive Populist where the writer opens by with the strawman question, Was it he who killed the post office?. As Leonard points out, this is another area where the Republicans have smelt they can take a public trust and turn it into a an engine for a coterie of rich and well-connected people to fleece large groups of people in need of a service which hitherto or in the last 100 years has been turned into a non-profit which works hard to serve people at little cost, paid for out of taxes structured progressively. Far more taken from the rich than the middle or poorer classes. The Republicans and their allies among corrupt democrats are working at destroying public schools in the US and the post-office by what’s called privatizing
A few data points:
• As a result of a law passed in 2006 that required the postal service to prepay — in just one decade — the next 75 years of future retiree health benefits, “of the $15.9 billion the postal service lost last year, 70% — $11.1 billion — was in future health-care payments.”
• The same 2006 law “prevents the postal service from raising prices for first-class or standard mail by more than the Consumer Price Index, regardless of fuel prices, regardless of what the mail actually costs to deliver.”
• “If you pulled out the pension prefunding payments and an accounting loss on worker’s compensation liability, the real operating loss, according to Lazard’s projections, was only $900 million a year. In a $60 billion company, that’s just 1.5%, and holding fairly steady in a flat economy.”
• The Postal Service’s two main competitors, FedEx and UPS, have spent over $100 million lobbying Congress over the last five years to restrict the postal service from being able to truly compete while at the same time ensuring that both companies can exploit postal service infrastructure.
It is true that in this case they feel they can get away with it as so many fewer people feel dependent on the post office, and indeed do use it less. There is also a strong racist element. The post office (like other federal gov’t places) has been a place that hires black and Asian and Latino people and is looked down upon by many in the white population of the US. Crassly put it, they are not related to the typical post office worker.
IN Trollope’s case precisely what Trollope worked for was to to have a place where no corruption could enter — in his Autobiography he describes scenes of himself in Ireland charging down on people in the country who had been taking money for delivering letters and demanding that others provide addresses of pillars and offices for people to use.
Trollope was a civil servant who thought of letters as objects entrusted to his care, each and every one of which should arrive unscathed and in a timely fashion to where or to whom it was directed. He wrote of his early years in Ireland:
it was the ambition of my life to cover the country with rural letter-carriers. I do not remember that in any case a rural post proposed by me was negatived by the authorities; but I fear that some of them broke down afterwards as being too poor, or, because in my anxiety to include this house and that, I had sent the men too far afield … I would ride up to farmhouses, or parsonages, or other lone residences, about the country, and ask the people how they got their letters … In all these visits I was, in truth, a beneficent angel to the public, bringing everywhere with me an earlier, cheaper, and much more regular delivery of letters.
Trollope is the only nineteenth-century English novelist to recognise a failure of imagination in the expectation that letters magically turn up on breakfast tables.
If he did not invent the pillar to put letters in, he was part of a team of people instrumental in the practical setting up of such stations.
When he visited the US, he found that the US post office was used as a trough for flunkies of politicians — every 4 years a lot of people were fired and the friends and clients of the winning party put in. He inveighs against this as bringing in ignorant people who had no idea and little interest in what the work was about.
If the PO privatizes, you’ll get another thing Trollope hated: favoritism. Trollope said jobs should be given security on the strict basis of seniority (how many years in), any thing else would lead to favoritism and discrimination on behalf of one’s coteries and associates.
He was passionate about his job and letters too (as an artist in his novels), and it may be said paradoxically quit when he was overlooked for promotion so hurt and grated upon was he. He also did think he could support himself by writing full-time and wanted to, but the politics of the office were partly responsible for his quitting before he would have been entitled to a pension. In later life his widow would need a special pension to carry her through in later life.
Saint Anthony, Joyce called him in Finnegan’s Wake.
If the Republicans have their way, Penelope will pay a lot more for her letters, and get far worse service.
The larger picture, again with reference to Trollope: specifically, The Way We Live Now, where Trollope’s central character, Melmotte is a crook who uses the speculative money market already there in the later Victorian era: Melmotte is a money-dealing banker, lying continually about what moneys he has on hand, falsely presenting what is the value of the investments he offers. He used to be seen as an instance of Robert Maxwell (British crook calling himself financier and getting away with it), but now we have a host of CEOS in the US and UK we can see Melmotte an instance of.
Dickens’s Mr Merdle of Little Dorrit comes in here. The Marshalsea was known as a debtors’ prison; Wm Dorrit is there for debt; the second half of the novel when for no work Mr or Wm Dorrit ever did he is suddenly fabulously rich is about the irrational working or functions of money when money is not a direct result of work or goods produced but the result of speculative markets. Mr Merdle’s suicide suggests a deep sickness of the soul; since we are not allowed any insight into his mind we are deliberately left to guess, but obviously oodles of money, the symbol of the best success in this society which all admire is shown wanting. We may infer guilt from losing money of all those people, deep shame at his loss of status (a reason for suicide found repeatedly in Trollope among male characters, and a reason Barbara Gates in her book on Victorian suicides instances as one understood as something men did in the era), perhaps (Davies in his film dramatizes his) disgust and some core of honesty appalled at what his wife thinks is good social life.
The difference is today or in real life few (or none) killed themselves in 2008; instead shamelessly they engineered deals with heads of gov’ts to supply the losses of themselves and their supposedly rich customers with the hard-earned dollars and tax money of the average person — which was to be paid for by cutting all social services further, destroying gov’t jobs, salaries, benefits.
And you can go to jail for debt today once again, indirectly. I’ve read about the mechanisms but haven’t it to hand this morning. Read John Lancaster in the London Review of Books on this.
Trollope had a highly unusual perceptive mind and his insight into The Way We Live Now (how people were learning to pull money to themselves without producing any goods or services or hard work) was unusual. Today in 2013 most of us still have trouble understanding derivatives –or what happened in 2008. If more understood, the use of the “deficit” to further cut services and people’s salaries & benefits and by so doing lower the standard of living of the average to make them supine would not happen as people would understand this is a false stalking horse