“Consolidation amplifies inflation,” noted Washington Monthly senior editor Phillip Longman in his recent cover story for the July/August issue, “It’s the Monopoly, Stupid.” Longman wrote that when there are “so few players” in an industry, “it is easy to coordinate prices and output just by sending signals to one another in public.”
President Joe Biden has embarked on an aggressive antitrust agenda to combat such excessive consolidation, spearheaded by Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, who has contributed to this magazine. In her first year, as directed by an executive order from Biden, Khan has focused on creating new rules to promote fair competition. Her plan has been a little slow to launch. Democrats only secured a majority of the FTC commissioners this past May. With that majority, rule making is expected to quicken, although Biden and Khan could still be thwarted by a conservative Supreme Court skeptical of executive branch agencies asserting rule-making powers.
But there’s one program already being implemented that’s helping small businesses compete against behemoth corporations. Most surprisingly, it’s being carried out by a holdover from the Trump administration: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
In his 10-year “Delivering for America” plan, DeJoy included the idea for “neighborhood businesses access to local drop points and local services for same day or next day delivery.” Dubbed “USPS Connect Local,” the service launched in February, starting in New York City, and has continued to spread across the country.
USPS Connect Local provides businesses with next-day local deliveries, as well as same-day service and Sunday delivery in select locations. Businesses can prepare packages for fast local delivery by paying postage and printing labels with the “Click-N-Ship” app, then bringing them to the post office or, in some locations, arranging for pickup. According to a USPS spokesperson, the service is already available in 2,416 offices across 3,680 zip codes. USPS Connect Local should be in all 50 states by the end of September.
Eric Cortellessa reported in the Washington Monthly last year that “dozens of current and former USPS officials and industry analysts” saw “fast, local shipping” for small businesses as a tantalizing opportunity. If consumers “can start ordering from their local mom-and-pop stores and get the products delivered to them as quickly as if they ordered from Amazon,” he wrote, then that will help small businesses withstand the pressures from their bigger rivals, as well as help the USPS withstand the pressures from Amazon.
DeJoy, however, remains a polarizing figure. The heart of his 10-year plan is slower service to cut costs, which many Postal Service advocates worry will make the nearly 250-year-old USPS less competitive with private carriers and ultimately undermine public support. Last month, after Biden installed enough appointees on the USPS Board of Governors to compose a majority, Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey called on that majority to immediately fire DeJoy.
Yet DeJoy is still in charge. Biden appointees may be the majority, but one of the new appointees is a Republican, as no more than five of the nine presidential appointees can be of one party, and Donald Trump had previously appointed a Democrat. An analysis by the Revolving Door Project, a progressive group highly critical of DeJoy, concluded that only two of the nine appear supportive of his ouster.
And at least when it comes to USPS Connect Local, protectors of the public postal service, who have been skeptical of DeJoy, like what they see.
When DeJoy first took over as postmaster general in May 2020, American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein was unnerved that service cuts were implemented without first listening to the perspective of the workforce. As he told The Washington Post later that year, “You’ve been there less than a month. Wouldn’t you want to get the opinion of the unions and the mailing community on what might happen if you cut service like this? He never talked to us or sought our input.” And last year, when DeJoy announced plans to close 18 processing facilities, Dimondstein sharply criticized the move as “a slap in the face of postal workers.”
But in an interview, Dimondstein told me that he was upbeat about DeJoy’s support for next-day and same-day local business package delivery. “He has some—and maybe at times too much—but he has some needed emphasis on package growth,” Dimondstein said. USPS Connect Local, he added, “fits into growing the business, bringing in more revenue, and finding some new creative ways to better serve the people of the country.” Asked if that meant DeJoy isn’t trying to undermine and privatize the USPS, Dimondstein replied, “What the [Postmaster General’s] motivations are—beyond having this new product and bringing in new business—I can’t tell you. But we’re certainly rowing in the same stream, so to speak, that these kinds of products are important to roll out.”
Biden has adopted an antitrust agenda, but any successful antitrust battle must be waged on many fronts, industry by industry, with new laws, rules, and litigation. Significant resistance can be expected from deep-pocketed corporate lobbies, which conservatives in the judiciary may well back up. In other words, quick, easy, and impactful victories are hard to secure. But USPS Connect Local is here, helping small businesses overcome suffocating monopolistic trends. Whether or not DeJoy remains in his post, fast local delivery for local businesses from your local post office should be here to stay.