Researchers Alberto Chong, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, and Andrei Shleifer sent letters to 10 fake addresses in 159 countries. The whole idea was to test government efficiency, by seeing how long it took to return the letters to the senders.
All these countries, the researchers note, subscribe to an international postal convention (the Universal Postal Union, coordinated by the United Nations), which requires them to return letters they cannot deliver.
Not all are that great at it: Only 60 percent of the letters actually came back to the researchers.
Among the countries that returned all 10 letters, the USPS was far and away the fastest to do so.
The native language of the country matters too. Countries that use the Latin alphabet returned 12 percent more letters than those that used other alphabets. Probably not enough to encourage countries to choose a new native language, but one factor that does help a letter get where it’s going a bit faster.