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MONDAY, MAY 8, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Buy your ‘forever’ stamps while they’re just 42 cents

Some of us have not run out of 37-cent and 2-cent stamps yet, and already the U.S. Postal Service is talking about another rate increase.

The cost of a first-class stamp increased to 39 cents in January, making 2-cent stamps necessary if you use the old 37-cent ones. The Postal Service said Wednesday that it wants permission from the independent Postal Rate Commission to raise the price to 42 cents in the spring of 2007.

In a new twist, the proposal includes a "forever" stamp that would just about make 2-cent or 3-cent stamps obsolete. The forever stamp would cost 42 cents initially but be usable to mail a letter at any time in the future — even if the price has gone up again. Future forever stamps would be priced at whatever the current first-class letter rate was.

The forever stamp appears to be designed to make the rate increase easier for consumers to swallow. At least we won't have to buy new stamps every time the rates go up, and we could even save a little money by "investing" in forever stamps. Buy them, hold them, use them when they're worth more — or maybe sell them to somebody else at a profit.

The forever stamp represents an interesting principle that perhaps could be applied to other products and services, but not all. If you could buy a forever coupon for a gallon of gasoline at today's price, you might or might not come out ahead. The price might go down.

Don't expect postage to go down, though. The Postal Service has its own vice president for pricing (isn't that ominous?). His name is Stephen Kearney, and he has a vision.

"A lot of other shipping companies raise their prices every year, and we are actually committed to moving to a one-year rate-change cycle," Mr. Kearney said, according to The Washington Post. "That's part of what motivates the idea of the forever stamp — to make that impact not affect consumers as much."

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