The government hates competition. But one man once dared to take on the United States Postal Service, creating a free market alternative… until he was shut down.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Connor.

Connor: You know, I think we may have discussed this on a previous episode, but neither of us are huge fans of the United States Postal Service. Am I remembering that right?

Brittany: Not even a little bit. I mean, you remember it, right? But not even a little bit of a fan. Not at all.

Connor: And, you know, probably a lot of the families out there listening, you know, have had their own problems, especially in the past few months, during the, you know, start of the pandemic. And since it’s been a nightmare with shipping a lot of our Tuttle twins packages and so, you know, not the biggest of fans and we’ve talked about, monopolies before, and that the government has a monopoly really over the mail. And we know that when monopolies are allowed to happen, let’s maybe pause and define that term for those who are new or don’t remember, right? A monopoly is someone who has like the only control over something. If I have a monopoly over the production of money, then no one else can make money and I can’t. And so I can abuse that process. If I have a monopoly over the production of pencils, I can charge obscene amounts of money because no one can compete against me. Cuz the, you know, the government says, oh, you know, only Connor can produce pencils, but people need pencils so I can charge them a lot of money. So monopolies are bad because, you know, innovation doesn’t really happen. Competition doesn’t happen. consumers or customers, they don’t really have a choice. And so if they need pencils or if they need to send mail, then you’re stuck. And typically with monopolies, what happens is because there’s no competition, the price goes up and the quality goes down. Right? Like you’ve, you’ve been in the post office. Brittany, tell me kind of your, if you had to sum up all of your experiences going to the post office, put, make like an average about all of them, and what is that average experience like going to the post office?

Brittany: Well, I don’t use bad words, Connor, so its.

Connor: So moving right along. The next question,

Brittany: it is, there’s jokes about the DMV, which is where we get our driver’s licenses, that it just feels like pure communism. You’re in a long line. There have been times when I’ve gone here where I live and the ladies are on their phones. They don’t even look up at you when it’s your turn. it is complete just chaos. They keep you waiting forever. And the thing that really gets me is not only do we already pay for, the postal service with our taxes, then I have to go in and pay for an envelope or pay for a stay. I’m gonna see, I’m getting heated right now, so, I would rather stay in the DMV line for hours Ooh. Than spend 30 minutes at the post office. Wow. It’s a terrible place.

Connor: That’s saying something. Okay. So I wanna share a story about a gentleman that will probably mention, in the future as well. This is a really interesting guy. His name is, Lysander Spooner. And, he’s a really interesting dude. So he lived in kind of the mid 18 hundreds. And, you know, the, as we’ve been saying, the post office, the United States Postal Service is well known for being, you know, inefficient and slow and have poor customer service rising costs. They can’t generate a profit. And so they’re always asking for bailouts from Congress. We know these things. And again, it’s a monopoly. No one’s really surprised who understands economics.

Brittany: Let’s, real quick though, you can send packages just to clarify like there’s UPS and FedEx. You can send packages, but like letters, I believe that’s what they have the monopoly over.

Connor: Cause I That’s right. Yep. Yep. Congress prohibited competition with the USPS for, you’re right, delivering letters. They punish it with a fine of hundreds of dollars or even going to prison. they exempt the post office from paying state and local taxes and they give it the post office like billions of year, billions of dollars a year. That, you know, UPS and FedEx, which you just mentioned, Brittany, don’t enjoy. So, how does Lysander Spooner come into the equation? Well, he actually tried to compete against the post office. He was sick of the declining quality of service and the rising costs. He set up his own company. In fact, we recently had on our show Max Borders. And what I really like about Max is one of the things he talks about is criticizing by creating. So you think about what that means, right? Rather than, oh, the post office, you know, costs are too high or whatever you’re complaining about. Max wants us to think about, let’s criticize by creating, so here’s Liz Zander, Spooner almost two centuries ago who criticized the monopoly of the postal service by creating a competitor. He called it the American Letter Male company. And he wanted to provide a better service. He wanted to challenge this postal monopoly. And so the revenue, the amount of money that the post office was getting started to go down because Spooner’s company started growing. And so the postmaster general, who’s kind of like the guy in charge of the post office.

Brittany: That sounds so ominous. It’s like very fitting like I’m kind of scared of that name.

Connor: Yeah. Like does he have a gun? And horses. And so the postmaster general goes to Congress and convinces them to lower the price of mail. Now you think that the price of mail would be whatever it actually costs, right? And that would kind of go up and down based on the market supply and demand. Well, no, because this is a monopoly. Congress was artificially, which means fake. They were artificially setting the price. And so this was in March of 1845, Congress lowered the price. So Spooner, in turn, he lowered his rates to keep competing with the post office. So then a few years later, Congress comes back, they lower the rates again, while also creating a new law that increased the monopoly on mail distribution. So this really closed the loophole that Spooner was able to exploit. He was using this little loophole. So Congress closes the loophole. He was put out of business by the government. And of course, since that time, prices have just totally exploded. Service has declined. But I really love this story of here’s this guy who actually decided to take on Congress and for a period of time he did.

Brittany: So this is a little bit of a side tangent, but then it’s gonna type back. So I wrote an article about Lysander Spooner and the USPS or the United States Post, or Oh yeah. Postal service, a bit ago. I say postal service and I think of the band, it’s also a band. But now, now I’m digressing. so I wrote this article and I actually got attacked online by all these postal workers who told me, I got the story wrong. That it was like, it didn’t work, it didn’t take off, no one even used it. But that’s not actually true. So when Spooner did start the American Letter Company, people were actually starting to use it. And they ended up having several locations. There was Baltimore, there was Philadelphia, there was New York. So a lot of the East Coast. And that’s what scared the United States Postal Service. They actually started making threats to railroad companies saying like, if you keep using this guy’s service, you know, we’re gonna pass the law. We’re gonna do this to you. And so it was, you know, around then when, when they started cracking down, because again like you said, they had a monopoly over the mail. And you have to, so the constitution does, we’ll back this up. It does give the government the power to, I think create post offices. But I don’t ‘think.

Connor: Postal roads actually it says they can what it’s, yeah, they can designate postal roads. So they can basically specify here are the official kind of channels. And so they can be involved a little bit, but they can’t have a monopoly. The Constitution doesn’t say that.

Brittany: No. And it also doesn’t say you can’t have a competitor, even if it said the government could create a post office, it didn’t say, oh, but nobody else can. And so it’s so funny to me that that became like the norm. But here you have Lysander Spooner saying, no, that’s not how the market works. I’m gonna do it anyway.

Connor: Well this guy is so interesting to me, right? He was kind of an activist is what I would describe Spooner as. Yeah. And his life of activism actually started as a lawyer. he had studied law under some prominent lawyers, but he never attended college. And according to the laws in his state of Massachusetts, college graduates had to study with an attorney for three years while non-graduates had to do so for five years. And so.

Brittany: like an apprenticeship kinda thing.

Connor: Thing, kind of like that. And so he starts practicing law after three years, but that was what the option was if you went to college. So he was, according to the law, supposed to, have a mentor for five years. And so he argued it was discrimination that college students got to do. After three years, he just started practicing law, started defying the courts, and later the legislature abolished the restriction. And so this guy from his early career starts trying to kind of agitate, I might say, right? Starts trying to push back a little bit and fight these injustices. One thing I wanna talk about, and I don’t know if we’ve ever mentioned this on the podcast yet, Brittany, is we’ve talked about a lot of isms. capitalism, socialism, communism. Well, Spooner considered himself an anarchist or part of anarchism. And this is a very interesting word because behavior. Yeah. And maybe we’ve talked about this before.

Brittany: I Don’t know that we have ever used it cuz it’s such a, it elicits a lot of different responses.

Connor: It does. And I believe we have talked about Voluntaryism. Yes, we have. And so let me ask you, Brittany, how, so Spooner sees himself as an anarchist or believing a believer in anarchism. most people when they think of the word anarchist, they think of some guy dressed all in black throwing Molotov cocktails or, you know, bombs, at people and trying to create anarchy, right? Or chaos is what it’s often a synonym with what Spooner, think about?

Brittany: So I think that, and I heard this explained to me once in this way, and I like it, but we’ll unpack it a little bit. That anarchy does not mean no rules. It means no rulers. And the reason I like that is because anarchists live by a code, right? They still believe don’t hurt people don’t take their stuff, but that’s where the line ends. We don’t need all these arbitrary or meaningless silly laws just because somebody in power wants to make them. One thing that, Lysander wrote about was, vices are not crimes. And you know, the government has tried to rule or make laws about biases like what you can put in your body. You and I have talked about that a lot. You know, you can’t do this because it’s bad for you. And we’re the government and we know best. And Spooner wrote this article, he was like, yeah, maybe it’s bad for you, but that’s not a crime. You can do what you want with your own body because that’s your choice and that comes with consequences that you’re gonna have to deal with. So it didn’t mean that he believed in chaos. He wasn’t throwing what are called Molotov cocktails, which are like homemade bombs. He wasn’t throwing those through Starbucks windows. There were no Starbucks back then, but he was just, he believed that a person should be able to rule over themselves. And it’s very similar to Voluntarism. In fact, it might, a lot of people consider them essentially the same thing.

Connor: That’s right. And I wanna read a little excerpt of what, Spooner once wrote. He has a lot of very interesting writings about the constitution and about the law. And he was kind of a force to be reckoned with. He really saw himself, as kind of a political philosopher, someone who really tries to think about these ideas deeply and write about them and persuade other people. And so this is a really interesting passage and I may break down a couple, of portions, but he says lawmakers as they call themselves, can add nothing to the supreme law or the law, nor take anything from it. Therefore, all their laws, as they call them, that is all the laws of their own making have no color of authority or obligation. It is a falsehood to call them laws for there is nothing in them that either creates men’s duties or rights or enlightens them as to their duties or rights. There is consequently nothing binding or obligatory about them. And nobody is bound to take the least notice of them unless it be to trample them underfoot as used of patience or that means violations of your liberty. So what Spooner is saying here, which is very provocative, is that there is kind of a natural law, there is a supreme law, there is existing law. This is something the founding fathers believe in. So Spooner is a believer in the ideas of the founding fathers. But taking it one step further and saying like, if we do believe in natural law if we believe in a creator giving us our rights, if we believe that, we the people delegate our authority to the government, right? Then the government can never have more authority than we have. Cuz you can’t delegate a power to the government or delegate means to share. You can’t share a power with the government that you don’t have. And so Spooner here is saying that these lawmakers, politicians, elected officials, right, legislators, all these names we have for them, Congress, when they go up there and they pass a law and they say, oh, people named Connor have to wear pink tutus on Wednesdays right? Like Spooner is saying that’s not a law. Like that’s just a decision. That’s something they’ve voted on. But that doesn’t rise to the level of law. And Frederick Bastiat, who we’ve talked about several times before, talks about this as well. And his pamphlet, the law, we have our book, the Tuttle Twins Learn about the law Laws are very important and specific things. And when we call every decision by Congress or a state legislature or a city council, when we call all of those laws, we kind of missed the point of what an actual law is. if we’re equating these preexisting natural laws with whatever the decisions of a bunch of politicians are, and we shouldn’t probably equate the two. And that’s what I see Spooner saying.

Brittany: You’ve mentioned the law, and I think this applies here, the difference between natural law and positive law. And that kind of comes in here. There are natural laws, again, don’t hurt people, don’t take their things, you know, don’t take what doesn’t belong to, that’s, natural law. But then there’s positive law, which is like you said, Connor has to wear, you know, pink tutu on Wednesdays where it’s like, wait a second, what is the grounds for this? Like, why are you doing this? So I think it’s important to remember that a lot of these laws are just kind of the government’s way of saying, I can make this law, so I’m going to, but that doesn’t mean that it’s just, or right.

Connor: We have to, and we could talk for hours about this guy. He’s super interesting. He is. And, so we will link to a couple about Lysander Spooner on the show notes page. Even just that history of his competition with the post office. He should be applauded if for nothing else, the fact that he tried to take on the post office and Congress directly. I mean, that was pretty bold. And so a super interesting guy to learn some of his writings. And, you know, doesn’t mean you have to believe everything, but he’s a very interesting fellow, a very deep thinker. We’ll link to that on the show notes page, Go check it out. And great conversation, Brittany. Until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.