Mention the word spam and most people automatically think of unsolicited advertisements via email. But long before email became the great bane of productivity it is today, salesmen used spam to pitch their wares to the masses. With email, they have just incorporated a newer avenue of approach. The original spam technique still exists today, but has deluged us for so long, people take it for granted. I am talking about the huge amounts of junk mail delivered to our mailboxes daily (except Sundays, of course). Why is there no outcry over this intrusion into our lives? Primarily economic, of course.
Spam via email dumps the costs on recipients in lost productivity of both workers and computers. Employees have to sift through their email to find the ones related to their work and of interest. Computers which also act as mail servers waste valuable CPU cycles in processing the mail or in attempts to block it. For very little investment by an email spammer, he can cost others exponentially more.
Bulk rate mail costs are borne primarily by the senders and create economic gains for several interests:
- Brochures, catalogs and letters are printed on paper. The forest industry and paper mills benefit from the increased demand. Even the recycling industry profits from this wasteful expenditure of tree products.
- There is money to be made by advertising firms or in-house staff who design and create these mail campaigns. More staff is needed (and paid) to assemble the mailings and presort them to their destinations.
- Firms purchase mailing lists to find likely candidates as recipients. There are some companies whose sole existence is to create and maintain databases of people to populate these lists.
- Firms would not send out these mailings if there wasn't a decent percentage of return on investment. Someone out there must be buying these products or signing on for loans and credit cards at loan shark rates.
- Finally, the federal government benefits from this mail. They receive payments for logging rights in national parks to help produce the paper used. Taxes are collected from the workforce which creates these mailings. The U.S. Postal System is virtually the sole transporter of bulk rate mail, as well as many products shipped as a result of completed sales. It is not in the government's interest to stop these mailings. Is it in yours?
Although you may dislike the piles of unsolicited crap and may wonder how you get on such mailing lists, you may also benefit in a third-party sense. Everyone benefits from a strong economy in some manner. Even if you are stuck in some deadend job, working for minimum wage, the capitalist society at least provides an opportunity to better oneself. You may not think it now, but look at how many non-college grads head multi-million dollar companies; you have the same chance, no matter how bleak. (Insert here obligatory "rah-rah-rah!, that's what makes America great!") So now you say, gee, I want to do my part, but how can I help? Do I actually have to buy this crap or service they offer in these mailings?
Heck, no; that's the best part of a strong economy. As long as you make some effort which benefits some part, everyone benefits in some way. You already invest a little time by sorting through your mail before throwing it away. This simple act only benefits the job security of the trash man. My idea is to invest a few more seconds of your time to benefit a wider scope.
How much of your junk mail contains a business reply envelope? The sender does this to make it appear it costs you nothing to sign up for his credit card at 27% APR. It costs him nothing if you do not mail it back. If mailed, the postal rates for regular business reply mail is 33 cents for the first ounce or fraction; each additional ounce or fraction is 22 cents. Plus there are additional handling fees, depending on whether they have paid an advance deposit (8 cents) or, if not, they pay more per piece (30 cents).
Now, before you run off and start mailing Mom those letters for which you couldn't afford postage, let it be known it is a federal offense to circumvent the U.S. postal system. If you readdress that envelope to Aunt Natty, you can be prosecuted and lose your eligibility to become president of the United States someday.
However, it is perfectly legal to send it back to the sender. Send it back and you cost him at a minimum 41 cents and benefit the economy in several ways. You provide a reason to hire staffing to handle incoming mails, revenue to the U.S. Postal System, and another line entry for accountants when they tally business expenses for the year while preparing tax returns. And let's not forget the taxes collected by the government for wages earned by each of the previous handlers of your reply. It has been known since Roosevelt kickstarted the country out of the Great Depression through massive Federal spending and verified by today's Internet click-thru-referral economy. You don't have to provide tangible products to create a strong economy; you just churn it into a self-sustaining cycle.
I usually take the opportunity to write a small note and provide the sender some feedback. If it is a credit card provider with an interest rate far above the norm, I tell him so. Sometimes the magazine subscription offers get a polite "Thanks, but no thanks!" These notes let me keep the moral high ground. The sender spammed me with an unsolicited offer; I spam him back with unsolicited business advice. Many times I will send back the contents of the original mailing (sans any paper with my name, of course). This has a two-fold benefit: it may cost him more depending if I break the weight over an ounce, plus my local landfill doesn't get filled up with trash mailed from out of state. Let them fill up their own.
The author of course denies any responsibility for any backlash or penalty imposed upon anyone who follows the suggested course of action. You are on your own, just as I am when I follow my own advice. The best lesson my father ever taught was to allow me freedom of choice, but to take responsibility for my own actions and deal with the consequences, good or bad. Too many lawyers looking for their percentage of a lawsuit have made many people ignore that simple creed, but that can be the topic of a future essay. The USPS logo shown at the top of this document is a registered trademark of the United States Postal System. The use of this logo on this page does not constitute an endorsement of my advice. It simply serves as a link to www.usps.com for those readers wishing to learn more about stopping junk mail to their homes. Those readers who came here looking for relief from email spam, go to www.sendmail.org or www.orbs.org for information.