Forbe has a piece suggesting that the US Postal Service won’t be following Royal Mail’s path to privatization any time soon. The author may be correct, but his opinion might be more valuable if he had his facts straight. To Abram Brown’s credit, he explains the trust fund business pretty accurately, and he’s one of the few journalists who realizes that the USPS has already stashed over $44 billion away for its future retiree health benefits. But then he writes this:
2012 was the first year that USPS defaulted on the $5.5 billion payment, and a closer examination of USPS’s balance sheet shows a still more gloomy picture. USPS, despite concerted efforts to become more efficient, lost $15.7 million in 2012, more than triple the loss of a year earlier.
Golly- a $15.7 million loss in 2012? I could have sworn it was a lot worse than that, wasn’t it? Are you sure you don’t mean $15.7 BILLION, Abram?
But wait- there’s more! Brown tells us that 2012 was the first year that the USPS defaulted on the $5.5 billion trust fund payment. What he doesn’t seem to be aware of is that the USPS didn’t have a $5.5 billion payment to make the previous year, because Congress kicked that can down the road into 2012! As a result, the USPS technically had TWO $5.5 billion payments due in FY 2012.
Which leads us to Brown’s worst howler- the business about the “loss” tripling in 2012. Again, he doesn’t seem to understand that the “loss” INCLUDED the $11 billion in trust fund payments that the USPS didn’t pay in 2012!
So not only was the “tripling” of thr loss entirely due to the trust fund requirement, the additional losses exist only on paper! His comment about the loss suggests that it’s due to falling volumes, when the vast majority of the deficit was a Congressionally required bookkeeping entry, not actual cash.
By the way- Abram Brown manages the fact-checking department at Forbes!