Will the UPS Christmas botch make Obamacare's critics shut up?

In a just world, all the people who have piled on to the federal government for blowing the launch of would take a look at the UPS Christmas Day screwup and swallow hard.

But it's not a just world, so the lesson of how the nation's leading parcel delivery service got blindsided by an excess of Internet traffic surely will be ignored. 

Alec MacGillis of The New Republic reminds us of all the finger-wagging by private sector triumphalists to the effect that, unlike the government's health insurance enrollment system, commercial websites and services wouldn't have been brought down by a surge of users, especially when the key deadline was foreseen. 

The government needs "an Amazon-like culture," lectured Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. Sniffed Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Silicon Valley Democrat: "There are thousands of websites that handle concurrent volumes far larger than what was faced with. Amazon and EBay don’t crash the week before Christmas."


These observations make hilarious reading today, especially because the main reason UPS missed Christmas deadline deliveries of what may be millions of packages was a surge of orders from and other online retailers, which also underestimated demand. (FedEx also missed Christmas delivery deadlines, for the same reason.)

The UPS/Amazon botch just proves that, whether you're in government or private commerce, sometimes you don't see the bullet that's coming for you. Yes, the government knew for several years that Oct. 1, 2013, would be the drop-dead date for having up and running online; but by the same token, Christmas arrives on Dec. 25 pretty much year after year.

It's not as though UPS doesn't expend stupendous effort getting ready for Christmas, or that it doesn't have a single, accountable, expert executive in charge of that effort. (He's peak planning manager Scott Abell, who's known within the company as "Mr. Peak" and has been at this job for 14 years.) Yet despite Mr. Abell's expertise, and despite clear weather and other logistical conditions, UPS got run over.

Of course, the notion that private enterprise is the answer to everything because government can't get nothin' right always has been the refuge of lazy ideologues.

As we've written in the past, it can be dismissed with two words: San Onofre. That's the nuclear power plant wrecked by the sheer incompetence of Southern California Edison, at a cost of billions. But other examples of private-sector bungles abound, including the sloppy security at Target that allowed some 40 million customer credit and debit cards to be compromised starting on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. 

Will the Affordable Care Act's knee-jerk critics take all this as a reminder that screw-ups can happen anywhere? Doubtful. But they should acknowledge, at least, that just as the great deadline miss of Christmas 2013 doesn't mean that the business models of Amazon and UPS are invalid, the birth pangs of don't invalidate healthcare reform.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email. MORE FROM MICHAEL HILTZIK

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