Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Decline of American Civilization

Since the first stamps issued by the United States Post Office in 1847, the rule had been that no living person may appear on a U.S. stamp. The first U.S. issue was a set of two stamps, one showing George Washington, and the other, Benjamin Franklin, the first postmaster general.

U.S. stamps since then depicted deceased presidents and other historical people, but never any living person. There was a good reason for this. In countries with kings, the monarch’s portrait appears on its coins and stamps. The king or queen is the sovereign. Today, Queen Elizabeth appears on the stamps and coins of the United Kingdom and the members of the British Commonwealth for which she is the head of state. However limited her powers, the Queen is the living personification of the state.

But the USA was a republic that rejected royalty. In the USA, all the citizens are individually sovereign. To put the president of the United States of America on an official stamp or coin would treat the elected servant of the people as a royal master. To put any person on a stamp or coin would treat them as exalted. It would confer a governmental privilege, in effect, royal treatment, contrary to the spirit of the Constitution of the USA, which declares, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.”

Now the United States Postal Service has announced that henceforth it will issue stamps showing living persons. Stamps showing popular people would be big sellers. They could put sports and movie stars and musicians on stamps. Even worse, they could put the US president on the stamp, and then members of Congress and the Supreme Court.

The USPS has allowed people to issue their own stamps showing living persons. On a web site, one could upload a picture and provide the text, and then pay for special stamps that would be delivered to the buyer, valid for postage. But these were not national stamps officially issued by the USPS.

Now the USPS is exploiting its prestige for money. The coins and stamps of the US government represent the grandeur of the nation. When money means more to the USPS than the dignity of official philatelic images, it amounts to postal prostitution.

The breakdown of long established rules indicates an abandonment of discipline. Of course bad rules should be gotten rid of, but the rule that no living person appear on a US stamp had good reasons behind it.

The USPS is now inviting people to suggest people to be put on stamps. If it goes by popularity, we could see a set of stamps showing top stars and celebrities, such as Lady Gaga or Mick Jagger. Maybe the high value of the set will sell for $5, with others denominated at $2, $1, and a forever stamp for 44 cents. Collectors will want the whole set. And then the USPS will offer a souvenir package with a booklet, photos, and a chip with songs. It will be enough to make old-school collectors gag.

The USPS would like to promote the old hobby of stamp collecting. Young people will buy stamps showing their favorite musicians and movie stars, but they will not from that go on to collect the other new issues. Children once collected used stamps, saved from mailings, but the USPS does not profit from that. The Postal Service wants to sell mint stamps. But stamps made only to sell to collectors, with little or no actual use for postage, are not really postage stamps. They become stickers, just as medallions are not really coins.

These stickers and seals of living persons will raise some money for the USPS, but that will not solve its financial problem. The losses suffered by the Postal Service are too great to be covered by selling some more stamps. One problem is that the USPS has a board of directors of 535 persons - Congress. Members of Congress have prevented the USPS from closing post offices in their districts. The USPS must obtain approval for price changes from the Postal Regulatory Commission. The USPS should be let loose to make financial decisions like a private business, so long as it serves its mission to provide universal service.

If the USPS were to be privatized, then there would be no problem selling stamps showing living persons, as these images would no longer represent the state. But so long as the USPS is part of the federal government, its stamps should be treated like US currency. Imagine living persons such as current presidents on US currency. If living persons could be on a $1 bill, surely the president would be at the top of the list, followed by the head of the Federal Reserve system, and we would then have a royal currency, not the currency of a republic.

After the US Constitution was written, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether the US had gotten a republic or a monarchy. He replied, “a republic, if you can keep it.” When the US president appears on a stamp, we will know that we did not keep it.


Post a Comment

<< Home