A few weeks ago the price of a first-class stamp increased to 49 cents. Sounds like a pretty good deal when you think about it. For 49 cents, a person will come to a box in your neighborhood, pick up your letter, and deliver it anywhere in the United States. What’s the problem?
Of course, some people are complaining about the 3-cent increase, which many like to point out is the largest in more than a decade. “This is an outrage! Who do they think they are? We need to privatize the post office to stop these outrageous price hikes!”
I find watching the evening news really helps to put the price of mailing a letter into perspective. Hundreds of thousands killed or displaced in Syria. The people of the Philippines struggling to rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan. Demonstrators in Ukraine spending the night in subfreezing weather to protest the government. And in the United States, the price of a postage stamp just went up 3 cents.
I can hear the refugees of Syria now: “How do they live there?” The people of Ukraine must be equally appalled: “Three cents. Is there no God?”
In 1981, during my early days as a comic, I first made this point when the price of a stamp went from 15 cents to 18. “For 18 cents,” I said, “a guy comes to a box in your neighborhood, picks up your letter, and delivers it to Florida. For 18 cents. What’s the problem? If you don’t like it, get a rowboat and a megaphone and go tell the guy in Florida yourself.”
Every time the price of a stamp has increased since, I’ve had new material.
In 1988, I was on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson when the price went from 22 cents to 25. “For 25 cents,” I explained to the audience, “a guy comes to a box in your neighborhood, picks up your letter, and delivers it anywhere in America for 25 cents. For 25 cents. What’s the problem? You want change? Tip the guy 3 cents. You can’t pay a 4-year-old American kid 25 cents to lick a stamp.”
In 1999, the price went from 32 cents to 33. By then I was on 60 Minutes II saying: “Thirty-three cents to mail a letter, and people complain? Come on, folks. Those X-rated home videos cost four bucks a day. Or so I’ve heard.” (Looking back, I’m not sure that joke actually got on the air.)
Now the price is 49 cents, and it’s still a great deal. You can send a letter from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Santa Monica, California, for less than two quarters.
It’s true that in the last 26 years the price of a stamp has nearly doubled. I was thinking that if the price increases continue this way, 52 years from now I’ll be 110 years old, and if I’m lucky, living in assisted living somewhere, entertaining the grandchildren of the other residents, clad in a johnny and gripping a walker. “You kids have no idea how lucky, lucky, lucky you are to live in this great, great land,” I’ll say. “For two bucks, a person comes to a box in your neighborhood, picks up your letter, and delivers it anywhere in America. What’s the problem?”
Now, as much as I admire and appreciate the US Postal Service, it did lose $5 billion in fiscal 2013. How did that happen, you ask? Let me explain it to you.
For 49 cents, a person will come to a box in my neighborhood in Cambridge, pick up my letter, and deliver it to Santa Monica.
The cab fare to get him from Cambridge to Logan can be 50 bucks.
A nonstop flight from Boston to Los Angeles costs upward of $400.
Then the cab fare from LAX to Santa Monica is at least $35.
See where I’m going here? If you want to balance the budget of the post office through privatization, we’ll need to raise the price of a stamp to at least $485.
So tell me again, what’s the problem?
BY THE NUMBERS
What can 49 cents buy?
21 percent of a large coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts
25 percent of a ride on the T
11 percent of a Big Mac at McDonald’s