Economists mail fake letters to test global post

Published: 09th August 2012 11:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th August 2012 11:34 AM   |  A+A-


A group of economists has rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems.
They mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to professor Rafael LaPorta at Dartmouth College.
The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments.
All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month.
After a year, 59 percent of the letters were returned. Only 35 percent came back within three months. Just four countries sent the letters back within 90 days: the United States, El Salvador, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg. Sixteen countries returned no letters, including Tajikistan, Cambodia, Russia and several in Africa.
For high-income countries, nearly 85 percent of the letters were returned, while less than a third of the letters sent to low-income countries came back.
The results suggest that governments in developing countries suffer from the same inefficiencies as the private sector, including inferior "inputs" (human and physical capital and technology) and mismanagement, the economists wrote in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.
While that finding was not surprising, "it is still important to recognize that not all bad government is caused by politics," wrote the group, which also included Alberto Chong of the University of Ottawa, Andrei Shleifer of Harvard University and Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes of EDHEC Business School in France.
A variety of fake business names were used, such as Computer Management Professionals or Inventory Technology Partners, and names of Nobel laureates in economics and famous composers were used as street names. Under the address was a notation, "Please Return to Sender if Undeliverable."

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