Dear Mr. Eccentric
What is up with the constant bump in postage stamp prices?! It’s not like it gets ’em there any faster!W.H. Russell
St. Joseph, Missouri
Post marked May 1988… point taken sir.
Interesting thing postage. They, that is to say THE THEY, would have you believe that the postage you now pay is used to cover the expense of mailing stuff. And, up until 1998, this was true… to a point. Now, however, that pretty little square on the envelope is used to keep the price of oil down. I know, I know… you may scoff at that idea whenever you roll into a 7-11, but its a fact.
See, in 1932, analysts predicted that the use of the postal service would – due to the increase in telephone services and private carriers such as UPS (est 1930) – slow to a point whereby it couldn’t fund itself via postage alone. The price of a stamp was raised from .02¢ to .03¢ each. The actual cost to mail was still only .02¢. That extra penny was secretly siphoned into a fund called the “The Obsolescence Fund.” And from that point on a percentage of each stamp went into that account.
Fast forward to 1998 and the still infant days of the Internet. The craze of instant communication swept the globe; email was both functional and a fad and chat rooms buzzed. The mailmen panicked and invoked the fund.
Now, you know that bit where by you take a penny, double it, double that, then double that still? Yeah well, needless to say the postal service could mail the Earth to Alpha Centauri and still have a tip for the delivery dude.
But you just couldn’t declare free postage for all! There would be chaos. People would be shipping bricks! So no, they had to keep postage in place. But what to do with it?
It was about this time that oil spiked from $15 to $30 a barrel (was there such a time?). The grandchildren of the 1932 analysts also became analysts and also foresaw gloom and doom – this time in the oil trend. So, a new “Obsolescence Fund” was established to build a “floating” petroleum reserve: secretly buying as much oil as possible and flooding it into the overt US oil market.
This is why in 1998, the USPS switched to self-adhesive stamps – it was for “legal” purposes. The sticky stuff is petroleum rubber based; so in essence the postage would be paying for the oil to make the rubber. A weak argument yes, but this IS Washington we’re talking about.
THEY (them again) tried something like that in 1974, during the gas shortage. A self stick stamp got issued around Christmas time, but fell through. There was a backlash from the leftover hippies who complained that they needed the lickable stamps in circulation so they can pass off their LSD tabs as legit.
Long story short – whenever there’s a bump in oil prices, there’s a bump in stamp prices.
Figure this – one .42 cent stamp, per day, per person for one year: .42x365x300million = 45,990,000,000. Imagine our oil prices if this WASN’T supplementing it. Phew.