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Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
Thomas Jefferson

I wrote: Has somebody compared the increase of postal rates with the general evolution of prices, for each country? I have the impression that the increases of postal rates are higher then the increases for other similar services.
Posted the 10/8/99 on RCSD

 Winston Williams answered: Let's compare the increase of postal rates with the general evolution of prices for Great Britain.  After all, GB is the country with the longest history of universal postage.
    On its introduction in 1840 the basic rate for inland mail was 1d (one old penny).  The basic rate is now 26p (new pence).  This is a 62-fold increase (1p = 2.4d).  Against this, the all items retail prices index (and its predecessor indices) has increased by almost exactly 40 times.  So compared to 1840, we are worse off in the UK.  (Before I did the comparison, I thought it was the other way round!)
    Taking up Victor's general query, has anyone else compared their country's
increase of postal rates with price changes?
    Some asides on my UK price comparisons:
    1.  If you take your baseline as a century ago (the general prices of consumables went down between 1840 and 1896), general prices have only(!) increased by about 54 times, as against the same 62-fold price increase to post a letter. So even against that benchmark, we are worse off.
    2.  The 1840 basic rate only covered the first ounce (14g), whereas today it covers the first 60g.  While you could argue that this needs to be taken account of in the equation, I feel justified treating this as effectively the same, as most letters still weigh less than half an ounce.
    3. The 1999 26p rate is for first class letters.  There is now a second class rate of 19p, which the Post Office try to deliver within three working days.  I have ignored this, because even in 1840 most letters were delivered within one working day, which is the same service we get in 1999 for the "first class" rate.

   My comment: Thanks, Winston.
    I expected the answer that the postal rates increased more that the general level of prices. My explanation is that the postal authorities, being in most countries a sort of state monopoly, are protected from the concurrence and can therefore ask for higher prices.
    Considering the point 3. of your answer, some comparisons of delivery times and prices. A letter sent to me (in Switzerland) from a place in Switzerland, about 120 Km distant, took 5 days to arrive, even if it was sent by A-Post, the equivalent of yours first rate. Normally it had to be delivered the next day, the same as it was the custom in 1840 in England for all letters. I received that letter on the same day with a registered letter coming from Denmark, that was sent 3 days later than the letter from Switzerland. And FYI, the price of a A-Post letter sent inside of Switzerland is equivalent to 37.5p (+44% compared to GB), for a country that is smaller then GB.
    Unfortunately I haven't the retail prices index in Switzerland in 1843, at the time when the first Swiss stamps were issued ( a bit later then in GB :), that's why I cannot make the same comparison for Switzerland that you have done for GB.
  Notice from Winston: On prices, even in a country as inflation-ridden as England, with I imagine more public interest on inflation, it is not easy to go back to the 19th century. My source was a battered Pelican paperback published in 1969, "A History of the Cost of Living". 


Revised: 01/08/00.

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