The U.S. Postal Service underestimated the fight it would have trying to close 3,700 rural post offices to save money. They didn’t know that all those quaint country folks living in “Norman Rockwell paintings brought to life” are mighty tough political opponents.

 In a nation that is increasingly urbanized, from a strictly economic standpoint it makes sense to eliminate the offices that generate least revenue in relation to expense. A significant number of Americans say government should be operated more like a business. Based on this principle, we would not only close under-performing post offices, but also stop paying for paved roads in sparsely populated places.

There are, in fact, a great many things that don’t make much economic sense – everything from trials by jury to food-safety inspections – that taxpayers support because we see them as part of the social contract in a modern democracy. These are things that bind us together as a nation, bedrock commitments we owe each other. We support them because we see the importance of a grandmother in a rural community being able to conveniently send Christmas packages to her grandkids in the city.

Post offices play particularly important roles in smaller communities, where they are the de facto town halls for people who don’t have a lot of other points of human contact. The services they provide – selling stamps, money orders, processing packages and so forth – remain especially relevant in villages where Internet connectivity is often sketchy and where commercial competitors to the Postal Service do not maintain branches.

Beyond these pragmatic services, the American attachment to our post offices and the mail harken back to our nation’s beginnings. Our first postmaster general, Ben Franklin, placed a great value on communication in bolstering a healthy new country. (He is said to have placed a particular priority on delivering his own newspaper to subscribers in the years before the Revolution.)

No Clatsop County post offices were on the initial closure list, but others in nearby Oysterville and Skamokawa, Wash., would have been axed. We all benefit from the new decision to keep these and other communities more closely linked to the outside world.

At the same time, there is no doubt the Postal Service will need to implement changes to run more efficiently. These steps, such as shorter hours and replacing full-time employees with part-timers, will not be popular. But if we truly support our postal traditions, we also have to find supportable changes that permit it to design a sustainable financial future.

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