Should The Feds Mandate a Do-Not-Mail List?

On Reason’s website, Radley Balko has a great takedown of the Post Office’s hostility to the so-called ‘Do-Not-Mail-List’, which would prohibit the U.S. Postal Service from sending junk-mail to people who register themselves as not wanting junk-mail.

The U.S. Postal Service is opposing a “do not mail” list for junk mail because . . . well, I’ll just let them explain it:

Postal Service spokesman Al DeSarro said half of the mail his agency handles is direct marketing mail, and reducing its volume could cost thousands of Postal Service jobs.

This is terrific logic. Americans should be bothered with useless, unsolicited junk mail so that the USPS can continue to pay otherwise unneeded postal workers to deliver it. Makes sense to me.

I thus propose a federal “Agency for Digging Holes in Americans’ Front Yards.” Then, because of the holes-in-people’s-front-yards problem that will inevitably result, I propose a second “Agency for Filling In Yard Holes.”

These two agencies will create thousands of new federal jobs. And as we all know, new jobs are good for the economy.

This prompted an interesting rejoinder from a commenter martin who asked:

If companies want to pay the USPS to deliver their ads what’s wrong with that? Free market in action, no? Presumably those “unneeded” workers are being paid by those same companies’ mail payments.
You don’t like getting it, so instead of taking a sec to toss it, you call for a no-send list, government enforced, of course. What gives?

martin is bringing up a point that must be considered: does this list, which prohibits unsolicited mailings infringe on the rights of people to advertise their wares? Doesn’t that contradict the idea that when unwanted mail placed on your property, it is a form of tresspass?

To answer this question, we first should look at what would happen in a free market for mail delivery. In a free market, a person owning a chunk of land would be under no obligation to receive any mail. Nor would there be any organization that was obligated to deliver the mail to him either. However, most property owners would like to receive and send mail, so naturally there would be mail delivery companies that would offer mail delivery services. In all likelihood, this delivery system would take the form of people subscribing to mail service providers (MSP’s) much like people subscribe to ISP’s for access to the internet.

Of course, if one person subscribed to ‘Planet Express’ for their mail delivery needs, and they wanted to send a letter to a client of a competing MSP named ‘Awesome Express’, in all likelihood, Planet Express would deliver the mail to a transhipment point shared with Awesome Express and Awesome Express would handle the actual delivery. These transhipments would be governed by agreements that covered the terms and conditions under which mail would be accepted for delivery, and payments between the firms.

Just as people can sign up to have the ISP filter out Spam on the server, some MSP’s would offer no-junk mail services. Presumably, the early adopters would create standards that the later adopters would honor, and there would be industry-wide methods for people to signal whether or not they wanted unsolicited mail or not, and which senders were ‘trusted’ senders. Since the customers do not have to accept any mail at all, it is clear that these arrangements would in no way infringe on anyone’s rights.

Furthermore, the no-junk-mail services would probably be nuanced. For example, people could ask for no junk-mail to be delivered with the exception of mailers about local grocery specials.

Currently, we do not live in a free market. The U.S. Postal Service has been granted a monopoly by the U.S. government for mail delivery, a monopoly that has held up through the years despite the efforts of many heroic Americans such as Lysander Spooner and Fred Smith, for over 2 centuries Congress has succesfully prevented competitors from competing head to head with the Postal Service, typically by forbidding competitors from charging competitive rates or advertising their performance.

The U.S. Postal Service is a creation of the government. The laws passed by Congress define it, direct it and shield it. When Congress passes a law mandating that it provide some service, it is as if a board of directors ordered the officers of a company to provide a service. Thus, if there is nothing inherently illiberal about a laws mandating that the USPS honor a do-not-mail list. The laws that grant it a monopoly on the other hand …

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.
  • John V


    Inspired a blog entry:

    I love economic fallacy fodder.

  • Nitroadict

    Obligatory: First comment here, came across this fine blog amid googling for more sane sources of news / analysis thereof & other libertarian concepts to learn during a bemussing few year break before college.

    Junk mail is actually rather amusing to me; even when, months ago, as a self described “progressive-leftist”, I didn’t really see the huge problem, except for maybe people’s futile’s efforts to stop it. Most of it turned out to be junk, some of it might be useful depending on circumstances. Just like anoyying people in public with which you must tolerate, junk mail will never go away unless the buisness of junk mail wasn’t profitable, Do-Not-Mail list be damned.

    Case in point: Do-Not-Call list being bypassed by “courtesy calls”, for which a rational person would just let the message machine get it & learn how to filter their own phone traffic. Of course, back then, I considered maybe the law’s enforcing such lists weren’t strong enough, but now I look back and shake my head at such foolishness, wondering if I would’ve eventually suggested building a moat (physically and/or electronically around the house) 8D.

    Liberty & free markets go both ways; the only time the USPS goes both ways is when it’s driving in circles around a ditch 8D.