07 March 2014

Development as... a better postal service

Francis from Oregon writes:
"I am a young postcard collector working on a geography project. For this project, I would really love a postcard from Sudan or South Sudan. 
Do you know of anyone who would be happy to send me one? I would be so happy and grateful for your help. 
Of course in return I would be more than happy to send the sender a beautiful postcard (or anything else they might need) from Oregon in the U.S. 
Francis from Oregon http://the-geo-nerd.blogspot.com"
So if anyone in South Sudan wants a penfriend, there you go. All I can offer is some post-related development marginalia.

First, the speed and reliability with which post services deliver letters is a reasonably reliable indicator of state capacity more generally. Countries which are members of the International Postal Union agree to return any misaddressed letters to the sending country within 30 days. So a team of economists sent letters from the US to fictitious addresses in 159 countries (10 letters per country), to see how fast they came back. The results tally pretty well with expectation, Finland and Norway sent them all back, Sudan and Somalia sent back none. And the time it took correlates with other measures of government capacity. They go on to make an important point:
"we used these measures to argue that an important reason for poor government in developing countries is not corruption or patronage, but rather the same basic low productivity that plagues the private sector in these countries as well.   Such low productivity is related to inputs and technology, but also to management.    In some ways, it is not surprising that a measure of the quality of government constructed to be free of political influences in fact correlates with standard determinants of productivity; yet it is still important to recognize that not all bad government is caused by politics."
In addition to furthering our understanding of governance and state capacity, post offices play an important immediate role in providing financial access in many countries, particularly for the poor, the less educated, those not working for a wage, and those living in rural areas.

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