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And people are caught, if there has been a lot of drama around the post office lately.
I know it's like a political firestorm. It is. You can almost see it's Shakespearean. OK, Cardiff people might not know this, but you are this huge Shakespeare buff, right? You're always quoting Shakespeare. You know Shakespeare really well. That's true. Today, I thought we would do a Shakespearean show about the post office.
Also, I thought we could weave in a little quiz to test your knowledge of the post office or Shakespeare of Shakespeare.
Frightening. Oh, no. First question.
Yes. How many acts in a Shakespeare play? Five. Ding, ding, ding, ding. This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. And I'm Cardiff Garcia. And I have no idea what's about to happen.
Well, I'm going to tell you today on the show, The Post Office in five acts, also eye test, Cardiff's knowledge, 10 questions, including some slightly modified Shakespeare quotes. And right after the break, something postal. This way comes. Hey, the players.
Yes, I do. What is it? Hamlet. No, I mean, you know, no, something wicked this way comes up from Macbeth, is it? It is Macbeth. We're off to a terrible start here.
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Post Office Drama Act one. What a piece of work is a post office. Do you know that line? Is that from Hamlet? Yes, that is from Hamlet.
Very good. OK, after a good start ish.
So the post office is a really big deal in our country and that can seem a little strange. I mean, I cannot remember actually the last time that I went to the post office.
Yeah, me neither. I just drop off my mail and when those little boxes, the post office, though, it is actually written into the U.S. Constitution, it says essential, I think, as electricity.
This is David Wessel. He's an economist at the Brookings Institution. Do you really think it's as essential as electricity?
I think it is, yes. Why is that?
Because the Postal Service is the one delivery service that has an obligation to serve a community the end of summer or rural road.
So the post office has this mandate called the universal service obligation, which means it has to deliver mail and packages to everyone everywhere, FedEx, UPS, they don't go a lot of places because it is not profitable.
And that is why David thinks the post office is so important. It connects everyone together. Shakespeare, by the way, Cardiff very much understood the importance of the mail. In fact, there is a very famous moment in a very famous Shakespeare play when a letter gets delivered late and has very tragic consequences.
It's the end of Romeo and Juliet. Very good, very good giving you a star for question number four. All right, add to frailty. They name is pension obligations.
That's definitely from Hamlet, referring to Ophelia, I believe.
Yes, frailty. Thy name is woman. I kind of like this version better.
So the drama with the post office, all of this drama, David Wessel says, goes back to the early 1970s. That was the moment when the post office went from just being a government entity to a business like kind of a business.
Congress decided that it should become a kind of strange quasi governmental corporation.
The post office went from a government entity that provided a public service to a public service that was supposed to operate like a business. So the post office has all these restrictions.
For instance, it cannot charge just like whatever it wants for stamps. It also has that mandate to get packages to everywhere. Also, when the post office was sort of semi privatized, there was this remnant left over from the government, the postal worker pensions.
It's it's a lot of things the post office is trying to contend with. At the same time, e mail happened, online documents happened and the post office profits were just kind of destroyed.
The post office has lost money every year since 2007 and it expects to continue to lose money for the next decade.
So for years, postmaster's have been trying to cut costs by reducing overtime, closing post offices, getting rid of mailboxes and just trying to find any way to make the business model work.
So far, it's not working. At three climax of our applicative, the stuff that news is made of, these are the things that dreams are made on.
Yes, the stuff that dreams are made. Is that from The Tempest? Yes, the tempest. Correct. Because of covid-19 and social distancing, a lot of states are kind of relying on mail in ballots for the presidential election. And that would, of course, flood the post office with the most important kind of mail. And the Postal Service kind of freaked out about this and sent letters to states saying, you know, there might be mail delays and some ballots might not make it by the deadline.
And then a reporter asked President Donald Trump about it.
If we don't make a deal, that means you don't get the money. That means they can't have universal mail in voting. They just can't have it. So, you know, sort of a crazy thing.
So suddenly, sort of everyone is obsessed with the post office business. There are accusations that the Trump administration is sabotaging the election through the post office. And then, you know, people start buying T-shirts and stamps and all these products from the post office as a way to, like, support democracy.
It is quite Shakespearean. It is Shakespearean.
So, you know, President Trump has long complained about the money losing business model of the post office and also its business relationship with Amazon. Trump has said many times that he thinks that Amazon should pay more for its use of the post office and getting its goods sort of all over to all places like rural Wyoming. Trump It is worth noting President Trump is not a big fan of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. So that could be in the mix. Yeah, definitely.
I mean, that's an understatement.
And, you know, the post office just kind of sitting there with all its like crazy business model. Like it to Mr. President.
ET tu brute from Julius Caesar. Yes. At the moment of Danning day, you know. Sure. When Brutus stabbed Caesar.
Now we're going to be very pleased that I like act for the winter of the Postal Service's discontent.
Richard, the third, this is the one of our discontent. Yes.
OK, what's the best case in the worst case scenario for the post office? The worst case scenario is that the post office loses the confidence of the American people. And I think it's become a political arm of Donald Trump and that the business evaporates even more quickly than is projected.
This Cardiff would be a pretty tragic outcome, like people unable to get their medication, rural communities cut off a presidential election thrown into question. It is not a good picture.
Talk about steering towards a tragedy. The best case scenario, though, of course, you know Shakespearean comedies to. But David says, you know, now that everyone's attention is on the post office and sort of the business predicament it's in, maybe there will finally be the will to try some things out. Now, everybody cares about the Postal Service, which, you know, just sort of like a crowdsourcing situation, right? Yeah. Act five. Oh, brave new post office.
Oh, brave new post office. Give me the whole quote there. Oh, brave new world that has such people in it. Oh, God. Oh, brave new world. That has is it Twelfth Night. No, it is the tempest, that's the tempest, that's the tempest. Oh, we're going to get to the history, please. I cannot say.
OK, do you think there's still going to be a post office in, like 20 years? Yeah.
Do you think we. I don't know. You think it's a viable business in spite of everything?
No, I didn't say I think it's a viable business.
I think that a valuable public service that we will find a way to preserve, even if it doesn't work as a business.
And for the record, if David thinks that all of this sound and fury and it's definitely McBeth McBeath.
Yes, I can tell you that speech that the sound and fury will mean like a lot of scrutiny and everybody paying attention and that the chances of tampering with the mail or mail in ballots will actually be pretty minimal as a result.
So not just signifying nothing, actually signifying quite a lot, signifying quite a lot, but until then, you know, unto the breach.
Henry the fifth. I had a history play in that. Thank you. Thank you. You're welcome. OK, so let's see.
I think I threw in an extra one in there for you. So out of 11 questions, I think you got nine. Correct? Yeah, I was just off my game, but that was fun. We should we should keep doing this. Is that a certain indicator was produced by Nick Fountain, in fact, checked by Britney Cronan Indicator's edited by Patty Hershon, it is a production of NPR.