YOU CAN hear all kinds of criticism of the Postal Service, and much of it is true. Everyone has or knows at least one good horror story about mail hopelessly late or lost. Everyone but the mailers thinks there's too much junk mail. The privatizers -- awful word -- complain that the service has been granted an inefficient public monopoly and is a trough for its unions.

Atop this, every three years, more or less, the price of a stamp goes up, and it now has again, from 25 to 29 cents. That's an increase of nearly a fifth -- you may shortly wish it were a fifth, a round 30 cents instead of the awkward penny less at 29 -- and we don't want to go bail for the Postal Service. But the service's own numbers people offer this comforting thought.

When the Postal Service was first created (from the old Post Office Department) as a mostly independent, self-supporting agency in 1971, the price of a stamp was 8 cents. In 1971 dollars it's now only 8.7 cents. Yes, that's an increase of nearly 10 percent in real terms, but it feels better. What a useful looking-glass that could be -- this apple or pair of shoes (but surely not this paycheck) only so many cents in 1971 dollars. We'd all think ourselves so lucky in such a low-cost world that -- who knows? -- we might spend our way right out of the recession. Thanks, Postal Service.