Democracy and public services: Evidence from the postal services

Haakon Gjerløw

Working paper


The causal relationship between regime type and public services has been subject to decades of scholarly debate and numerous empirical investigations. Different theories make different predictions on how institutions will lead political elites to make different economic prioritizations. A majority of the empirical proofs rely on macroeconomic data that are self-reported by governments. But these data are known to suffer from a type of measurement bias that is especially problematic when answering questions about regimes and leaders' incentives. Using novel data on the quality of postal services which does not suffer from any of these validity-issues, I show that postal services in democracies deliver significantly better services, responding to somewhere between 20 - 40 percentage points more letters. The effect is not driven by any single country or region, is not driven by different bureaucratic capacity or economic development, and can not be explained by countries' historical legacies.

Postal service quality around the world

In 2010, Alberto Chong, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes and Andrei Shleifer decided to test the postal services around the world. They did so by sending 10 letters to 159 countries around the world. But the letters had with fake addresses, and due to international conventions, these recieving countries were therefore required to return these letters. The experimenters then simply started to count: How many letters are returned from each country?

The result is illustrated underneath. Darker color means more letters returned. But Totally black countries, like Antartica, indicates countries that were not included in the experiment.

Remember, darker grey, more letters returned. But black countries are not included in the experiment.

All replication materials will be made available upon publication.