I’ve frequently used the local post office as a focus for articles because it is ground both public and common. We mail a couple of letters, find out how a neighbor’s illness is progressing, and bump into someone we don’t see often. A rural post office is sort of an old-fashioned party line telephone acting as central relay for a diverse and spread-out little community of interests. Being a none-too-radical area, my local PO is home to a fair number of stout hearts of strongly conservative character. They are bread and meat of the no-frills cutback, called efficient by its avoidance of big government. I know to a moral certainty that many of the good souls around me have prayed to whatever Almighty to be freed from the curse of big government excesses and socialistic threat.

Remember warnings to be careful what you wish for? Having rallied often and long for the cause of less government and more efficiency (which equals private in the jargon), the prayer for salvation has been heard and answered. The local PO is soon going on half hours, with the added option of the contract (means already privatized) mail carriers selling stamps and taking deliveries from their vehicles, which for an individual on the route amounts to a few minutes of daily service if you’re there (presumably home) to access it. That’s about the same as closing a country store to drive the back roads in a van going door-to-door with milk and bread or hoping customers will find you. Who needs a store with a good plan like that?

Do I need say how unpopular this prospect is even among those who favored and asked for it in general, without of course wanting to discover how it would fit in the particular? They don’t like it, and rightly so because it is, as ill ideas go, a quite sickly specimen. But with all the novelty an average human possesses, those who asked for this kind of downsizing only to find it not to their liking are perfectly happy as a piglet finding two teats to blame this fault on big government not listening to the people. With things like this, it’s best not to spend breath and energy pointing out to the detractors THIS is what they asked for and valued for all love. THIS is it. You asked for THIS.

They did indeed, but I will defend them saying they did so in the abundant good faith that an efficient free enterprise model would do a better job and not lumber posterity with socialistic strings. They are right there. The private delivery services do a very good job of delivery. Keep in mind this is at rates (tricky to figure these) at three to five times the postal package fee and near 30 times the postal rate for a simple letter. As for pickup, rural delivery drivers don’t do that. For that, you drive twenty miles to the rate books and scales. This is an example of how a term such as efficiency can mislead. My good neighbors assumed efficiency would be to their benefit, when in fact it targets efficiency for the supplier and not the consumer. But not to worry, as the rewards of efficiency will trickle down all over us. Have faith.

As with other aspects of the efficient, downsizing slaughter of American workers, this one has some effects for good folk to ponder from afar. When you examine how it is applied, efficient means one thing: lower cost. A skilled, experienced workforce able to perform tasks well and efficiently isn’t “efficient” in a cut-cost sense. The way of efficiency in vogue since the Reagan days is to gut jobs of as much value and dignity as possible. Skill and ability have come to count for less than base cost. The success of this tactic in the commercial sense is quite clear. At half-time pay, the local PO job would pay out under $50 per day with no benefit package. How’s that for efficiency? Is that not a job to die for? When figured in terms of take-home pay, that would be a whopping $600 monthly—about enough to cover moderate travel to work and the cost of the health insurance you’re not getting. With efficiency of that high an order, we could possibly afford to employ two part-time (sound familiar to any of you?) workers to mark time on jobs designed and meant to have minimum value to go with the wage and zero in terms of future. I doubt there’s anything that cost-cutting imbecility can’t reduce to useless mush with the sole redeeming feature of being cheap.

The only thing preventing the American worker from reaching the level of efficiency of his or her Asian counterpart is the desire to live above a poverty level. If workers weren’t organized and greedy, wanting better wages, some benefits, and safer workplaces, we could have hit Asian efficiency levels decades ago. The efficiency model will tell you that selfish unions are the root of the problem by holding workers back from welcoming the reforms of a work environment where labor is on its hands and knees with happiness for the rewards of a minimum-wage part-time job.

As with many things in life, what we wish for may not be what we really want. What we espouse with hearty belief and constancy may have repercussions we didn’t foresee. When heeding the cry that greedy unions were sucking the life from our national economy, we may not have noticed those hands at work measuring us top to toe to wear the cloth of poverty in servitude to an insatiable master in the form of never-ending demands for higher profits and less costs. It’s a wonderful game as long as others are able to endure its demands and bear its price on their beleaguered backs.

On a cheerier note, I hope those who wished for it are happily contented.