The ownership and management of the postal system is perhaps the oldest and most general of government enterprises, yet modern state activities reach into many other fields. Many causes have contributed to the development of this situation. The success which attended the various states in the management of the postal system, whatever the aim primarily in view, soon led to the conclusion, among certain classes, that the state could be just as successful in other lines of endeavor. The doctrine of laissez faire, moreover, under which competition was expected to work out justice in charges and services, soon proved to be unsatisfactory. This became increasingly true in the industries with which the public is most deeply interested - the public utilities. From factors inherent in the nature of their business, competition is destructive, and combinations and trade agreements soon began to appear.
Public ownership has been proposed as one method of escape from the abuses perpetrated by these monopolies. It has been carried much farther in some countries than in others. In many European states the telegraph, telephone, railroad, and express companies are owned and operated by the government. In the United States these industries still remain under individual management in spite of increased agitation and pressure from certain classes for government ownership. The extension of the postal system to the carrying of parcels has made the government a competitor with express companies, while the extensive regulation through the Interstate Commerce Commission and the numerous state public utility commissions substantially limits the activities of the individual enterpriser.