Tuesday 20 August 2019

Save the postal service by writing a love letter

Photo: Imre van Eijl

How to keep the postman safe in the era of e-mail? Put pen to paper and write a love letter, advises economist Mathijs Bouman.

This is what I fished out of my No-bestickered post box this morning: a letter from a solar panel seller, a folder from a web shop in office supplies and a blue envelope from the tax office.

The first two immediately end up in the paper recycling bin while I swear to myself never to buy anything at a web-based shop that still uses paper to promote its wares. All the tax office has to tell me is to file my return before the first of May. This I have to do online, making the letter a silly anachronism.

And so, throughout the year, my post box is the recipient of nothing very significant at all. Lots of promotion material addressed to me and the occasional bill from an energy company which, after a number of unfortunate experiences, no longer has automatic access to my bank account. Your post box is probably much the same. E-mail and the internet have turned the once proud postie into a distributor of useless folders.

Logical

And that is not exactly a big earner. It’s no more than logical that PostNL wants to buy competitor Sandd. Perhaps the two together can postpone the inevitable end by another couple of years. As an economist, the prospect leaves me cold. What would be the cost to prosperity if we are spared these useless leaflets? Precisely nothing.

But as a citizen I am attached to the postman. Every once in a while he brings me something truly wonderful. A Christmas wish from a far-away friend, a postcard from a distant land or a voting card with which to exercise my democratic right. So, how to save the postman?

Belcampo (real name: Herman Pieter Schönfeld Wichers, 1902-1990), the Netherlands’ best storyteller, gives us the solution.

In one of his finest short stories he writes about a country that wants to ban the telephone after an economist has found that it is only used for unimportant tittle tattle and the costs exceed the benefits.

But just before the phones are disconnected someone comes up with a brilliant plan. Once a year, on a certain date, every person in the country will ring their significant other and say ‘I love you’. This will increase the well-being of the citizens by so much that the costs of the telephone network become a mere trifle.

So here is my proposal. Once a year, on a certain date, every person in the Netherlands will send a love letter to his or her significant other and send it by post. Not on boring Valentine’s day of course but on July 21, Belcampo’s birthday. The social benefits will skyrocket and the postie will be safe.

This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad

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