USPS Undoes 200 Years of Democracy? JOEL TURNIPSEED · NOV 06 2007
Interesting piece in Mother Jones about the new rate hikes for periodicals passed this year. According to the article, weekly publications like The Nation and The National Review will face up to $500,000 a year in additional delivery costs. This is the sort of small, seemingly-trivial change that makes this past week's discussions here at kottke.org so urgent: when you look at how rapidly—and sometimes silently—things are changing, you really do need to step back sometimes and ask, "Have we really thought this through? Are we acting, and doing so urgently enough?" How significant is this rate hike? Try this:
Since the 1970s, all classes of mail have been required to cover the costs associated with their delivery, what's called attributable cost. But periodicals, as a class, get favorable treatment: They don't pay overhead, meaning that they don't foot the bill for the Postal Service's infrastructure, employees, and so on.
That's a tradition that goes back to the origins of the nation. The founding fathers saw the press as the lifeblood of democracy—only informed voters could compose a true democracy, they believed—and thus created a postal system that gave favorable rates to small periodicals. (George Washington actually supported mailing newspapers for free.) For 200 years, small periodicals and journals of opinion were given special treatment.