TUE POST OFFICE.
[To ME EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."'
Sia,—Mr. C. D. Howard begins a letter in the Spectator of October 29th by casting doubt on the " intimate knowledge " of your leader writer. Your leader writer, however, need have no cause for apprehension. He wrote avowedly about the Post Office from the standpoint of the outsider. But if Mr. Howard has the intimate knowledge which he so immodestly claims by implication, one may genuinely regret, for the sake .of your readers, that he betrays no evidences of it. If he has any knowledge of the Poet Office at all—which appears doubtful— he has the knowledge which everyone has, but he applies it wrongly.
His case falls, as they say, into five parts :- (1) He accuses your leader writer of making the vital error of oomparing the Post Office with an ordinary business firm. Your leader writer did nothing of the kind. What ho did do was to say that it was regrettable, for the sake of the National Exchequer and the convenience of the public, that it could not he compared with a business firm—an assertion which Mr. Howard abundantly proves. In fact, the Post Office cannot be compared with anything. It stands supreme and unchal- lenged in its ineptitude. As your leader writer said, The whole conduct of this department is an insult to the public who are compelled to use it and a taunt to common sense,' and he expressly confessed his inability to find logical explanations for the Post Office's way of thinking.
(2) 'The Post Office,' says Mr. Howard, ' charged pre-War prices long after firms with an eye solely to a balance-sheet bad increased their prices.' As the Post Office has always been regarded as an aid to taxation no one can complain. The citizen has to pay for the Post Office whether it charges pre-War prices or not. The only point is that when it puts up its prices beyond a certain point it restricts facility of communication and reduces its contribution to the Exchequer.
(3) The Post Office was the first to send its skilled workers to the Front . . the last to bring them back,' and it gave free postage to soldiers and sailors,' and the Post Office won the War,' says Mr. Howard. Every institution sent its people to the Front. Anything else would have been fatuous. Since practically the whole population was engaged on War services, including the business population, it is only natural that the Post Office employees should be more usefully employed on War services. There is no such thing as the Post Office performing free services. The men were paid, and whether they were lay- ing wires in Franco or in England they were doing so at the taxpayers' expense. The State never does something for nothing, though it often gets something and does nothing for it. The whole War was fought with the taxpayers' money, and we did not attempt to run the War at a profit. The State can no more take credit for sending the troops' letters free than for not charging them with the cost of their tickets to tho Front. In fact, in all these matters the Post Office was not the first to set the sterling example which arouses your corre- spondent's enthusiasm. The troops were transported before their letters. But perhaps Mr. Howard's assertion is that the Post Office never recovered from the War.
(4) Ask any British general how he would have fared in the great conflict without telegraphs or telephones? exclaims Mr. Howard. It is equally true that the railway companies of this country contributed hundreds of miles of traction. There is not a single general in the field who would not have said that without the railway system the War would have been impos- sible. It is not so easy to pass from so obvious a statement to Mr. Howard's conclusion that 'communications must always be under the general control of the State.' Whether it is a ques-
tion of communications of messages or of men, these things have to be utilized—in Peace and in War—and are -not necessarily
nationalised. There is no magic in communications and no more reason for nationalizing them than for nationalizing food, light, heat, or any other vital service. (5) In the interesting historical survey which ho gives your correspondent supports a continuance of the present rotten and exacerbating methods of the Post Office by asserting that in the first instance there were complaints against the private coin- Pules. There is no single industry in the world against which similar complaints have not been made. But it is not necessary to burn down the house in order to roast the pig. There is i doubt that the cost of the telegram has been reduced, and
that hat the telegraph system has been enormously extended since
its invention. It would have been a miracle had it been other- wise. But to argue that reduction of cost or extension of use
a. r° consequences of the exchange from private to public control It simply a post hoc propter hoc. You can hardly assert that " only alternative to the small dealer is State enterprise. It Is Perfectly possible for the State to realize quite as much profit out of the Post Office if it be privately managed as if it ,°;3 Publicly mismanaged. The real cause of complaint is that 1.EP Post Office is trying to get a profit by the insane method _`raising prices and reducing service which no commonsense man would look at for an instant.
Thus it i
, is that your leader writer was correct when he said that o' the Post Office was pre-eminently a Department about which f'__rneefeela. It needs nb economist nor statistician to convince the 4V age man who uses the telephone or the pillar-box that the whole organization is not north much more than the cost of
an insulated wire or a postman's bag." The only "intimate knowledge" which your leader writer claimed to possess was the knowledge of the man who has been run over by a motor bus, if it was not the knowledge of the man who drove it.
—I ale, Sir, etc., LESLIE HORS-BELISELl. 5 Adam, Street, tdclphi, 1V.C.2.