Portrait of Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner on why government monopolies like the post office are inherently inefficient (1844)

Found in: The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails (1844)

The American legal theorist, abolitionist, and radical individualist Lysander Spooner (1808-1887) started his own mail company in order to challenge the monopoly held by the US government. He perceptively noted that, in the absence of competition, “government functionaries” had no incentive to innovate or provide good service:


Universal experience attests that government establishments cannot keep pace with private enterprize in matters of business — (and the transmission of letters is a mere matter of business.) Private enterprise has always the most active physical powers, and the most ingenious mental ones. It is constantly increasing its speed, and simplifying and cheapening its operations. But government functionaries, secure in the enjoyment of warm nests, large salaries, official honors and power, and presidential smiles — all of which they are sure of so long as they are the partisans of the President — feel few quickening impulses to labor, and are altogether too independent and dignified personages to move at the speed that commercial interests require. They take office to enjoy its honors and emoluments, not to get their living by the sweat of their brows.