Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Postman Reviewlet

The PostmanI watched Kevin Costner's much derided Postman recently. I normally try to work on my long bus commutes, but sometimes that's hard when I wind up on the crappy bus so movies pass the time.

So I bought the DVD (out of a bargain bin) because I loved the concept. And while the movie lived up to its crappy reputation, it also delivered on the excellence of its fundamental premise: the power of institutions.

In a post-apocalyptic mad max world, where civilization has returned to a Hobbseian State of Nature where might makes right. The premise is that terrorizing dictators can be overcome not by violence, but by an institution: the idea of the postal service, in this case representing the idea of the United States and the idea of democracy.

Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions)Using Greif's framework for analyzing institutions, the hero in the movie, the Postman (played by Costner), wins over dictatorship by establishing a new institution with two key institutional components, 1) the belief that the dictatorial institution is going to end, and 2) introduction of a simple Rule, that a postman can create a new postman.

I think the credit mostly goes to the source material, David Brin, sci-fi novelist, who has consistently made great points along these lines. I've never read his books but two of his essays have influenced me a lot on how in Lord of the Ring, the elitist aritocracy of elves and rangers wins over Sauron's meritocratic (and even democratizing) forces of technology; and similarly, how Star Wars glorifies the elite master race of Jedi, over the democratic institutions of the Republic that the Emperor represents.

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