Friday, November 19, 2010

Institutions and Entrepreneurship

Regular readers of this blog know I find the idea of economic institutions interesting. Institutions have been defined as "the rules of the game." More specifically they are the set of rules and organizations (both formal and informal) that influence our decision-making by setting up incentives to action. They can include written laws, voluntary standards of conduct, even cultural beliefs. The last category is the subject of this post.

An article in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal (free content at this writing), discusses motorcycle taxis in Nigeria. Specifically, the article is about how dangerous the motorcycle taxis are. Evidently, there are so many accidents that one hospital has a ward specifically for people who were in motorcycle taxi accidents.

But attempts to get people to wear helmets have been unsuccessful, largely because of superstition (cultural belief). There is a belief among many that placing the helmet in contact with their head is bad "juju" which can have drastic consequences. People can disappear, lose their brains or their luck. People make choices, often tragic, because the belief presents a perceived cost that exceeds a perceived benefit. Thus, they make a "logical" choice.

Enter one entrepreneur who has developed a cloth liner that can be placed between the helmet and the wearer. It eliminates the contact and, for some at least, overcomes the cultural fear. There are other issues involved, including hygiene, but the fact is the entrepreneur was able to use his understanding of an institutional factor to identify and open a market. I don't know how successful he will be, given there are many inexpensive substitutes like personal handkerchiefs. And there are likely to be more commercial substitutes. But this remains an interesting example of entrepreneurship mixed with institutional economics.

I look forward to your comments.

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