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On “Junk Mail” and the U.S. Economy

February 03, 2010

I recently read an interesting, though misinformed, opinion piece titled Subsidizing Junk Mail in the Great Recession – and while its inflammatory title gives a good indication of where the author stands, the issue discussed is nevertheless worthy of discussion. In that spirit, then, here is a rebuttal.

Anyone who believes the “Do Not Mail” issue is a “no brainer” should recall the childhood proverb “For Want of a Nail,” with the instructive moral that small actions can lead to dire consequences. Following the author’s recommendation and enacting strict and onerous across-the-board Do Not Mail legislation might seem to some consumers like a simple, painless step; but the consequence would be the demise of the Advertising Mail Industry as we know it.

And the pain would not stop there. Contrary to the worldview of the author and others, the U.S. Postal Service does not subsidize Advertising Mail; rather, thanks to worksharing and mail-processing technology innovations, professional mailers earn their postal rate discounts, and in fact help support a Postal Service that in turn provides a foundational service – and a great economic driver – to the working men and women of America.

To jettison Advertising Mail would be to drive one more nail in the coffin of the already struggling Postal Service and, ultimately, our national economy. The USPS is the nation’s second largest employer (behind Wal Mart), and the mailing industry directly represents nearly 10 percent of the U.S. economic picture. Directly or indirectly, no job or business in this country is unconnected to postal activity. Without mail, as in the proverb, the “kingdom” that is the American way of life would be lost. (See the Mail Moves America website for a deeper perspective on this topic.)

U.S. law mandates that the Postal Service be self sustaining. Rather than tax dollars, it relies on revenue from business mail to provide the universal service we expect. Few of us like TV commercials, but we tolerate them because they mean we get the content for free. It is the same for Advertising Mail.

I am not suggesting the end justifies the means. If I believed the propaganda of special interest groups like the author’s own Forest Ethics organization, I would be the first to sign up. But as is so often the case, the facts contradict the hype.

Ironically, environmentalists opposed to Advertising Mail rely on that channel themselves as a prime way to drive their own fund-raising and promotional ends (while invariably lobbying to ensure they are exempt from any contemplated “Do Not Mail” legislation). In this, they are no doubt compelled by the same indisputable logic that fuels our industry as a whole. Simply put, Advertising Mail works. People do read it and take advantage of the messaging that it conveys. And they would miss it – along with all the benefits it carries – if it were gone.

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