Wed, 24 November 2021
Sam sits down with historian Christopher W. Shaw, to discuss his recent book First Class: The U.S. Postal Service, Democracy, and the Corporate Threat, on the rise of one of the most popular public services, and its precarious state in an era of privatization. They begin in the 18th century, with the beginnings of the postal system as a tool for patriot communication and military strategy, before it was picked up by the US government under George Washington, pivoting to the duty of transporting mail and, more importantly, news and newspapers, seen as a key element in linking and informing the population. The service spent the next century continuing to ingrain itself in the daily lives of Americans, regardless of economic success, with an 1851 law officially stating that deficit should not come into play with postal expansion, and following policies to continue to drive down the price of postage, including reduced pricing on paperback literature and the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) service. Working through the early-20th century, the postal service was seen as the role of the American government, until FDR’s social policy expanded on that greatly, and then two world wars saw the US take on an international-military role, greatly expanding the role of its legislative and executive branches. This brings Shaw and Sam to the mid-1900s, and a pivot towards privatization with neoconservatism and neoliberalism taking hold of US politics – they explore how the impact of a shift from railway to highway infrastructure and the 1971 shift to self-funding through postage that created the USPS as we know it, before they look at the influence of Reaganomics and how the postal service was seen as a key arena in the goals of privatization. After touching on the developments in the service over the last couple of decades, Christopher and Sam dive into the current state of the USPS in the wake of the Trump administration and a massive shift in the importance of mail-in voting. They wrap up the interview by looking at the development of postal banking, and discussing what types of expansion the postal service could and should employ moving forwards.
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