Forever Zeppelins?

When you buy a Forever stamp, you buy a guarantee of a particular form of postal service at any period in the future . This proposal has received much criticism from people like Newt Gingrich who see it as a scheme to expand government and “is setting the stage for a future tax payer bailout of the Post Office”(Linns Jan 31 pg 16). I’m not so sure. Suppose Apfelbaum were to sell anytime Zeppelin certificates. Send us $1000 today and we’ll send you a certificate that allows you to get a zeppelin set in a given quality grade at any time in the future. The advantages and disadvantages are numerous. From our point of view the situation sorts out as follows: We have the $1000 today- a decent chunk of money. It goes against current operating expenses and into current profit. Against that certainty, we have the risk that prices of zeppelins will go much higher even relative to inflation and we will have to redeem a certificate in ten years for a price that is in excess of the current value of $1000 plus ten years interest on the money. From the collectors point of view, though, the gamble is greater. He’s betting not only that Zeppelins will go up in value more than the 5% or so a year he needs to keep his $1000 in parity for today’s purchasing power. But he is also gambling on whether people will want zeppelin stamps down the road and at what price. He is betting that he won’t lose, misplace, or forget about the certificate (over 50% of retail rebate certificates are never redeemed and there are billions of dollars in unredeemed American Express Traveler’s checks and US savings bonds)) and he is betting that Apfelbaum or some successor company will be here in twenty years to redeem the pledge. All told, rather that being a boon to the collector, I think that Forever certificates of any kind, be they for Zeppelins or first class postage are to the advantage of the seller far more than the buyer. Most European countries have issued Forever types of stamps for years (certainly not a reason to enamour them with Newt) and their experience has been positive. And postal patrons love them. There is nothing worse than having to line up to buy one cent stamps when the postal rates change.

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