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Over the weekend news out of the UK made me wonder what’s going to happen to two bedrock institutions in America; the United States Postal Service and the United States Census Bureau. More than likely the census taken in the UK next year will be the last as that nation has come to realize the effort is “inefficient.” As it stands, next year’s effort will cost British taxpayers £482.0 million. Of course, a census effort is mandated by the Constitution, but there has to be a better way. Talk about inefficient, temp workers had to knock on 47,000,000 doors an average of two times because forms weren’t filled out properly. The house across the street from mine has been empty for a few years since the owner died and that bedeviled the heck out of the guy that kept coming around to ask us questions. The guy didn’t seem to mind our three dogs, yes they’re Yorkshire terriers but they are mean.

The goofier the person knocking on the door, the meaner they get – must be instinctive. Now, if we had a duck or rooster maybe the census guy would have bugged off. As the program was winding down the NY Times did a piece on incidences involving these brave door-knockers.

* 430 on the job incidents

* 13 shots fired

* 139 weapons pulled

* 10 workers robbed

* 1 bitten by a duck

* 1 bitten by a roaster

The UK plans to implement modern technology and other side resources to make its next nationwide headcount after 2011. This is another one of those things where you have to wonder if politicians in America would have the will to make similar changes to our approach. It served as a boon for the Obama Administration while it lasted. It wasn’t even about make believe like counting saved and created jobs out of thin air, although it was something akin to the story of Cinderella because the clock struck midnight just as the party was really getting hot (double counting and stuff like that had Administration officials bragging about more jobs being created this year than in all the Bush years). So, it’s a fantastic source of job creation, but it’s a horrendous use of taxpayer money. It’s also the kind of cruel joke played on people for years.

It’s a temp job that teaches a person nothing but maybe buys their loyalty and gets them to sit on the bench waiting for the next bright idea from the government job factory (carrying solar panels around job sites is going to be huge.)

It’s odd that the most technology-savvy Administration of all time couldn’t find ways to cut costs of census taking by using their friends in Silicon Valley. The first census was directed by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1790 and cost $0.00113 per person counted. It is estimated this year’s effort will cost $46.93 per person counted. My goodness that is a lot of cash. There were no official estimates back in the day about future costs but I’m sure no actuaries in the government would have predicted this amount. In fact, if the cost of administering the census kept pace with inflation since 1790 it would have cost taxpayers $0.15 in 2009 dollars. I can’t think of anything that has outrun inflation by such a wide margin, nothing. They have seen the light in the UK which has been taking its census since 1801, stopping only once in 1941 because of WWII.

The Second Continental Congress approved a “constitutional post” and in 1775, Ben Franklin became the first Postmaster General. The United States Postal Service is a semi-independent federal agency (title 39 section 101.1 United States Code) which sounds a lot like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before they were put into conservatorship. It doesn’t get taxpayer money but at some point it will probably need a bailout. The USPS just can’t keep pace with technology despite a monopoly on letters, which is right now a $45.0 billion monopoly. Still, the red ink continues.

* FY08 -$2.8 billion

* FY09 -$3.8 billion

* FY10 -$7.0 billion estimated

* FY11 -$7.0 billion estimated

The Post Office lost billions of dollars even after cutting 40,000 jobs in FY09, but the fact is the organization will probably have to shed even more jobs and at some point become innovative and smarter. Still, the Post Office reminds me of Blockbuster about a decade ago, at some point it’s going to have to find a way to fend off the Internet and I’m just not sure that’s going to happen. Maybe it’s time to dissolve the business or take a radically different approach other than raising prices, which is a completely backward move for a product with diminishing demand. Though not as egregious as the surge in cost of doing a headcount in this nation, the cost of a first class stamp has also outpaced the rate of inflation. In 1971, the Post Office negotiated its first collective bargaining contract (first for any government agency) and since then, the price of stamps has soared.

I’m not sure what can be done, although I bet old Ben Franklin is rolling over in his grave. First they turn down his idea of using a wild turkey as the nation’s symbol and now the post office is bleeding so much red ink it will have to go out of business or tap taxpayers for a bailout. In the meantime, it looks like the price of a first class stamp will move to $0.46 next year, but that will add $2.5 billion to the coffers. A novel idea might be lowering the prices of stamps but that would seem too much like capitalistic thinking and the Post Office is supposed to be revenue-neutral, it’s not supposed to make money. Well, it won’t.

I wonder if they would ever let outside managers run the Post Office and if somehow the mandate could shift from revenue neutral to actually making money. It would be wonderful as it has got a built in workforce, massive global reach, and name recognition. There are a lot of opportunities but at some point their legal monopoly has to be discontinued and they have to know that like other semi-government entities, they can’t do stupid things over and over and eventually be bailed out.

Another four banks bite the dust

Final Note

The market looks to open a little lackluster which isn’t unusual after a huge week, but in this climate any lethargy is worrisome.

Charles Payne is the CEO and Principal Analyst of Wall Street Strategies . This post was republished, with permission, from his company’s column, WStreet Market Commentary.

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