Archives for postal service



Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Once again, Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt take questions from you, our readers and listeners. 

In this installment, Joseph Fogan wants to know about the hidden costs of the war on drugs. The latest Gallup poll shows that 58 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization (compared to just 12 percent in 1969). Are we really ready to legalize drugs in more than just a few states? And if the answer is yes, what will police do all day? Read More »



FREAK-est Links

1. Do customs and postal service discriminate against “atheist” parcels?

2. Now there are wristbands to monitor whether doctors are washing their hands. (HT: R.E. Riker)

3. Dan Ariely is offering a free online course: “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.” Sign up here.

4. Dan Pallotta argues that non-profits should be run like real companies.

5. A new study of English literature finds that the use of mood words is steadily decreasing.



Return to Sender: What Can Postal Behavior Tell Us About a Nation?

I am not sure this is as meaningful as the authors think, but still it is an interesting experiment. From a new working paper called “Letter Grading Government Efficiency” by Alberto Chong, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, and Andrei Shleifer:

We mailed letters to non-existent business addresses in 159 countries (10 per country), and measured whether they come back to the return address in the U.S. and how long it takes.  About 60% of the letters were returned, taking over 6 months, on average.  The results provide new objective indicators of government efficiency across countries, based on a simple and universal service, and allow us to shed light on its determinants.  The evidence suggests that both technology and management quality influence the quality of government.

I am happy to read that final sentence but surprised it needed to be said. This paper may tickle your memory with thoughts of Stanley Milgram‘s “small-world experiment” (better known as “six degrees of separation“) and Judith Kleinfeld‘s reassessment of that experiment as told in Duncan Watts‘s excellent book Six Degrees. Read More »