Understanding the Economic History of Postal Services: Some Preliminary Observations from the Case of Meiji Japan
This object of this paper is to raise some methodological issues relating to the economic history of postal services, an area relatively neglected by Western economic historians, and to use Japan in the second half of the 19th century as a case study for exploring some of these issues. The first half of the paper surveys the previous historical literature on 19th century postal systems, and then considers several key analytical issues, in particular the fact that postal systems were government monopolies, the nature of postal systems as technologies, and the significance of the improved information flow that these systems offered to an industrializing economy. The second half of the paper looks at the economic significance of the Meiji governments's postal regulatory framework, the use that was made of these provisions, and how this use changed over time. The analysis focuses in particular on the issue of demand for and supply of postal services, and suggests that in most cases the increasing use made of the service was supply-led. The conclusion puts Japan's postal usage in this period in comparative perspective, and suggests possibilities for future research.
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