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Frederick Millar is upset that especially at Christmas time the bad effects of the letter-carrying monopoly of the Post Office are felt by the public (1891)

In a collection of essays edited by Thomas Mackay over 100 years ago there is this interesting attack on the evils of the government monopoly Post Office at Christmas-time:

Notwithstanding the very profitable nature of the letter-carrying monopoly, it cannot be said that, at times of great press of business, the public is served with that absence of fuss and effort which ought to characterise a great and wealthy corporation. At Christmas-time the Post Office is completely disorganised. Its customers are pitifully implored not to pay exclusive regard to their own convenience, and to despatch their packages and letters according to a timetable drawn up by the Post Office to suit its own convenience… It may, however, be pointed out that private carriers do not cry to be let off, but rise to the requirements of the occasion, provide additional facilities, and all the time by prodigal advertisement solicit rather than deprecate the patronage of the public.

Notwithstanding the very profitable nature of the letter-carrying monopoly, it cannot be said that, at times of great press of business, the public is served with that absence of fuss and effort which ought to characterise a great and wealthy corporation. At Christmas-time the Post Office is completely disorganised. Its customers are pitifully implored not to pay exclusive regard to their own convenience, and to despatch their packages and letters according to a timetable drawn up by the Post Office to suit its own convenience. But despite these precautions, the deliveries turn out irregular or break down altogether; and although the same disorganisation reappears each succeeding year, just as if the stress of business which causes the breakdown had never occurred before and was quite outside the field of human prevision. This disorganisation and breakdown commences a week or ten days in advance of Christmas, and even on the 25th of December the block and muddle have been so well developed that it has taken a letter two days to travel between the S.W. and E.C. districts; a book posted in London for Paris has occupied four days in transit; and within the metropolitan district telegrams have laboured along at the rate of one mile in twenty minutes. For a few days previous to Christmas the first delivery of letters falls two hours in arrear, and by the 24th it has been known to break down altogether. It may be said that private trading companies sometimes break down under a foreseen stress of business, and that the railway companies at Christmas allow their train-system to get disorganised. This, no doubt, is true; but we are searching (in vain it may be) for some point in which the State monopoly shows its superiority. It may, however, be pointed out that private carriers do not cry to be let off, but rise to the requirements of the occasion, provide additional facilities, and all the time by prodigal advertisement solicit rather than deprecate the patronage of the public. It should, moreover, be borne in mind that the services most liable to break down at times of pressure partake more or less of the nature of monopolies. The Post Office and the railway system are liable to break down, but the ordinary services which are bought and sold in the open market do not break down. The moral is obvious. Let us have no more monopolies than are absolutely necessary. Let human ingenuity do its best to make free exchange of service everywhere the rule. It is difficult to see why this rule should not apply to the Post Office.

About this Quotation:

This book is the first salvo (of two) fired by the Liberty and Property Defence League in their war against the Fabian socialists led by George Bernard Shaw in 1890. As Christmas was approaching and the U.S. and other nationalised postal services were coming under the strain of the heavy seasonal burden, this seemed like an appropriate quotation.

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