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Return to sender
Following John Browner's suggestion in the Front Porch ["Please Mr. Postman," Aug. 8] would be a resoundingly bad idea. Here's why: Direct-mail postage-paid return envelopes usually go to direct-mail clearinghouses (you know, those places in Colorado), not back to the sender. Contrary to Browner's fantasy, the desks of neither the "direct-mail greed heads" who invent the ad campaigns nor the corporate executives who profit most from them would be suddenly buried under avalanches of their own envelopes, stuffed with alien direct-mail junk by consumers on a righteous-wrath binge. Instead, workers with no direct connection to the targeted companies, who have no power whatsoever to change the system, would simply have a lot more envelopes to process.

These workers may be paid by the hour, or at a piece rate (the more they process, the more they earn). Or they may work on an incentive system; that is, paid incrementally by the number of envelopes they open that translate directly into increased sales for the client company. However they get paid, they'd have more to do.

And that's in addition to the postal workers who would also have more to do, what with the increased number of envelopes from all over the country sent with no other purpose than to annoy the recipients. Using the mails for this kind of harassment isn't creative or prankish, by the way: It's illegal. It's also illegal to use postage-paid response envelopes for purposes other than the one for which they were provided.

But let's say that millions of people do follow Browner's suggestion. The result both in transit and on the receiving end is lowered efficiency--more workers will work harder with less to show for it. The executives who are supposed to be annoyed will not "rise up and cry out in bottom-line agony." In fact, they won't be directly affected at all. But they will notice that they are spending more money on direct mail services--when more people work harder to produce less, costs go up.

Guess who's going to be covering those increased costs? That's right, consumers in general and customers of individual companies in particular, who will have to pay more for products marketed through direct mail because other people, provoked beyond endurance by the mere sight of direct mail in their mailboxes, decide that they must rebel against this assault on their integrity by slowing down the national postal service and overloading corporate mail rooms.

I fail to see how this scenario would be helpful to anyone. The most effective and efficient protest against junk mail is to toss it in the recycling bin and forget about it. Browner's friend's idea isn't "simple" or even original (it's been floating around the Internet for years), it won't have the effect it's intended to have, and it deserved more thought both from him and from you before it was disseminated.

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