The Global SoS Network

Streamlining Collective Intelligence Towards Sustainable Development [Beta version]  






In a Center for International Private Enterprise speech, Economics historian Douglass North, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economics, says very plainly: “If an economy is productive, it’s going to be rich. If an economy is not productive, it’s going to be poor.” The title of the speech is The Foundations of New Institutional Economics. In the speech, North also points out that for the creation of large markets, there is a need for institutions and structures that enable people to have exchange with people they do not know, and might never see personally.


We at The Global SoS Network have noted that speech as a starting point that fixates the relationship between adequate postal services and economic performance. Because adequate postal services permit long-distance trade and the serving of judicial summons at a low cost, they are the structural foundation that allows for the implementation of institutional enforcement of contracts across time and space. Thus when postal services are adequate to allow people to make impersonal exchanges, they establish Dr. North’s presages for economic development.

Developing countries often sustain legitimacy by imitating other successful modern institutions without actually developing the functionality of the institutions they are copying.

The Development Process-The Problem of Imitating Success


Douglass North points out examples of underdeveloped countries, like those in Latin America, where traditions favour personal exchange as compared to impersonal exchange. It so appears that these nations create constraints by giving priority to the development of infrastructure (works like roads, bridges, publicbuildings, etc.) instead of prioritizing processes through which a transition from personal exchange to impersonal exchange would bring sustained economic growth.






The Systems-of-Systems approach brings forth practical examples of collective impersonal exchange through the use of adequate postal services. The SoS approach also illuminates the constraint created by the lack of adequate postal services when it comes to the sustainability of infrastructure in developing countries.


Because adequate postal services facilitate formal and economical mass communication, adequate postal services facilitate the information interchange that will help streamline collective intelligence, and the collective economical effort of humans living in underdeveloped nations.


A good example of those constraints is the South American country of Venezuela. The Venezuelan press often complains that after 50 years of high oil income resulting in hundreds of times the investment made through the Marshall Plan, the country is still mired in underdevelopment. They point out how the Marshall Plan, which amounted to around 13 billion Dollars, was able to help the European economies become competitive just a few years after World War II.


The Venezuelan Government does place a high priority on infrastructure. However, for lack of maintenance or of budgeted resources, in Venezuela bridges literally crumble and then have to be dynamited to make room for new ones at a much higher cost.  Unrepaired Venezuelan power generators and transmission lines habitually fail -resulting in rolling blackouts, whole fleets broken-down garbage trucks lie idle in depots as refuse piles up for lack of collection, supposedly potable water is undrinkable from the taps because of dubious colouring or other insanitary characteristics, etc., etc.


Venezuela is a land of about 25 million inhabitants with a massive infrastructure paid with ample resources from oil-boom revenues. However, despite their living in a country that is classified as middle income, Venezuelan citizens build an average of 400 shanties per day –totalling around 150,000 yearly shanties, because of insufficient housing accommodations.


A telling Systems-of-Systems characteristic that creates constraints to impersonal exchange is that the Venezuelan postal administration, IPOSTEL, uses completely outdated postal technology, and tries to deliver mail with an almost non-existent postal address system. The preliminary conclusion thus makes it difficult for Venezuelans to use their collective intelligence the way an information society would.


Because of inadequate postal services, Venezuelans cannot make impersonal exchanges through the mail, neither can they make a collective financial effort to upkeep their infrastructure, nor can Venezuelan constituents create mailstreams towards their legislators in order to regulate Public System activities.