An Amazon package is loaded onto a U.S. Postal Service truck, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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Regular readers of this column have probably picked up on some of my quirks. One of them? I like quotes.

The Bible and the Bard tell us “there is nothing new under the sun.” Quotes remind us of that; they draw out wisdom from the past to apply to our situation today.

So, with that, I’ll offer a quote commonly attributed to World War II Gen. Omar Bradley: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.”

The “logistics” everyone is talking about today is the United States Postal Service.

It is one of America’s oldest institutions. The first postmaster was Benjamin Franklin, appointed prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Framers explicitly authorized Congress to establish and provide for it in the Constitution.

To borrow an old quote from the now-official Democratic presidential nominee: “It’s a big effin’ deal.

In the 1800s, the “Post Office Department” was a federal agency under the aegis of the presidential administration. The job of “postmaster” was a political reward for party loyalists. Or, if you were a member of the losing electoral party, a stash position for cronies of ill-repute. Until your side won and got to make the appointments, then it was a fine upstanding civil office.

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

In those days, much of the mail transport and delivery was outsourced to third-party contractors for a price. Steamship, stagecoach, and railroad corporations cut deals with the political appointees. Even the “Pony Express” was a for-profit business venture.

Time marched on and, in the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon signed a massive overhaul of the postal system and turned it from a “normal” federal agency into, essentially, a government-owned corporation staffed by members of a government employee union.

One of the misunderstood aspects of the USPS concerns its retirement funding obligations. Claims are flying that the GOP — twirling Snidely Whiplash-esque mustaches — sandbagged the organization by requiring them to “pre-fund” 75 years of retirement reserves. And that this is somehow a completely unreasonable, overly onerous requirement which will force the mail to fail.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The concept that pension plans must be “pre-funded” is a requirement of federally adopted accounting standards for nearly every private organization — read: corporation — offering a pension. And, if your employer offers a 401(k) plan with a match, they are “pre-funding” your retirement as well.

Maine voters required the exact same thing. Article IX, Section 18-A of the Maine Constitution forces state and local governments to make deposits annually for the future retirement benefits of every active employee.

Since government is pretty bad at budgeting, Mainers also adopted Section 18-B, which required the “unfunded liability” of Maine’s existing pension system (as of 1996) be paid up by 2027.

So what was the actual evil, malicious, diabolical plot in the 2006 law blamed for the USPS’ woes? Congress, in a bipartisan vote, required the Postal Service to address its own “unfunded liability” in 10 years. That was probably too steep a hill to impose, and should absolutely be reconsidered.

But a hearty debate over the proper actuarial window in which to fund a government-sponsored retirement program is, in a word, boring. Thus much of the substance over the solvency of the service gets lost in the shouting.

When the current fray is over, we will still have a post office. But maybe some of its operations should take a cue from the past. Could private sector delivery organizations become the modern day “Pony Express” contractor? It isn’t some new idea arising under the sun.

The “how” of the mail delivery is secondary to the “when.” Farmers rely on the mail for livestock. Sears and L.L. Bean made their names with the mail through their catalogue business. Amazon is valued at $1.6 trillion from its beginnings leveraging the postal system.

For our economy, “the mail must go through.” It was true during the Revolution, it was true during the Civil War, and it holds true today.

There really is nothing new under the sun.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan and in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine. He was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.