Department of brain farts: Transferable postal addresses

Here’s a simple problem.
Due to tradition, law and custom about the way we deal with debt and contracts and the like, a great deal of human activity requires the transport of pieces of paper from person to person. The information on this paper does not carry the same force if delivered electronically.
We call this the postal system. It’s considered so essential to the operation of a society that we force operators to serve everyone at equal cost, regardless of location, and then create a statuary monopoly to compensate them.
The system works by getting parties to stipulate a physical point that they want the paper to get to. 
This system is a pain. When you move from one place to another, there is an endless number of organisations you deal with who you need to tell. This is tedious and costly and a real, if relatively small, impediment to the movement of labour around the economy.
 Moreover, most of these organisations need not know where you physically are, and in many cases why would we want them to know? You can avoid this with a P.O box, by paying extra, but you still have the tedium of updating addresses if you move more than a short distance.
So, if we are going to persist with the tradition, law and custom, can we make this work a little better?
Why doesn’t Australia Post create transferable addresses that you take with you, like your email, or mobile phone number?
You can apply for a postal, say, number, and provide that to all the businesses you deal with. AP’s mail sorting machines read this number, print the address you have left with them on the envelope, and shoot it off to what is now your local post office for physical delivery.
When you move, you simply update your address with AP, and thus all your dealings get sent to your new addresses. Simultaneously, you’ve drastically reduced the number of people who can potentially abuse their knowledge of your physical location.

Cool story bro.

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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13 Responses to Department of brain farts: Transferable postal addresses

  1. conrad says:

    That would ace, as would opening on Saturday and not closing at 5pm on weekdays. People might be able to pick up their packages then. They’re really living as if it was 1954 and need a serious competitor.

  2. Ian Milliss says:

    I think you are ignoring the problem of other people moving into your old address. All mail then has to be checked to see if it is meant for new or old recipient. As for multiple addresses, different issue but as it happens every address in australia has an ID number courtesy of Australia Posts quality addressing system (as it is known) which lists every recognised address in Australia and has been around for almost a decade now. So in fact something like what you describe could be set up without the need to apply for a number, just get mail from your various address numbers rerouted to one specific address number. But that that would only work if everybody started using machine readable address numbers instead of written addresses. Do you know anyone outside of mailing houses who does that? No, neither do I, but I don’t think you can blame Australia Post for that.

    • Alice Harris says:

      “I think you are ignoring the problem of other people moving into your old address.” — No, Richard’s proposal avoids this problem. You have an “address” that is yours for your entire life, regardless of where you live. It’s merely a code that people can use to send physical mail to you. You tell the Post Office, what street address your code maps to, and the Post Office delivers your mail there. When you move house, you tell the P.O. (and no one else) your new street address, but everyone else keeps using the same code as before. Someone else moving into your old street address is irrelevant because they have a different code than yours.

      The Australia Post ID number that you describe can’t be used for this, because it’s linked to a specific street address, not to a specific person. It’s not a transferrable address for the same reason that the street address is not.

      • Ian Milliss says:

        I’m fully aware of that. My point was that the numbers could be simply redirected to another number, like phone numbers. In reality that is no different to redirecting a written address, just less characters. Re a specific personal identifier, well that is usually known as a name and everyone has one so I don’t really see what ultimate point of this whole post is given that the system exists already, changing to a numeric identifier rather than an alphabetical one makes no difference.

        • marks says:

          Everyone has a name, but not usually a unique one….and those are often a pain if you ask anyone who has been ‘blessed’ with a unique one by creative parents.

        • Alice Harris says:

          I think the ultimate point of the post is that the system doesn’t exist already. :) People’s names aren’t good for permanent “address” identifiers because names can change. The Australia Post ID number can’t be used either because it already has a location-specific purpose; changing it to be location-variable is likely to lead to severe data corruption to whatever systems it is already used for. Note that it’s probably used for more than just delivering mail; it’s likely to be used in other, related systems as well, such as determining efficient delivery routes, splitting up addresses evenly between delivery workers – all such systems would need unique identifiers that are linked solely and permanently to a physical location, and the Australia Post ID number is probably used for that. Hence a completely new set of identifiers would be needed for Richard’s permanent “address” concept. But that would be simple enough to set up and I think it would be a VERY useful thing to have.

  3. desipis says:

    Why doesn’t Australia Post create transferable addresses that you take with you, like your email, or mobile phone number?

    I hate to nitpick a good point, but email addresses are not transferable. If you have the address [email protected] and you change ISPs to ISP2, you don’t get to keep your email address as [email protected]. You’d be lucky to even get john.smith.isp2.com.au.

  4. Ian Milliss says:

    email addresses are easily transferable if you have a domain name, you use that as your email address and the underlying provider is irrelevant. Mine has been through several providers now, here and overseas.

  5. Tel says:

    We call this the postal system. It’s considered so essential to the operation of a society that we force operators to serve everyone at equal cost, regardless of location, and then create a statuary monopoly to compensate them.

    Speak for yourself, I don’t force anyone to do that.

    The statuary monopoly goes back to Queen Elizabeth and no one at the time was demanding it other than her… she wanted to open people’s mail you see.

  6. Tel says:

    There was for a while a special postcode created just for PO boxes and I had one of those, it was linked to one of the big sorting centres. For some reason they closed it down, and all of those PO boxes just vanished.

    Since the whole thing it computerized anyhow, and since the postcode only contained post boxes, they could easily enough have virtualized it.

    By the way, Australia Post franchises PO boxes, so you can do the business yourself if you care that much. How much extra they charge for your own postcode depends a bit on how many boxes you want.

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