International Reply Coupons
The easiest way to think of these is that they are world wide postage stamps. One IRC should be good for one letter from any country in the world to any other.
You can buy them anywhere and use them anywhere.
They are the closest thing that we have to a world-wide stamped addressed envelope.
However, they are not perfect. The main problem arises from the way that the scheme is funded. The scheme was set up many years ago by an international treaty to which just about every post service in the world subscribes. No money moves between countries, just the coupons. The treaty signitories assumed that each country would, on average, issue about as many coupons as were redeemed within its area.
In practice this just does not happen. How many men in Ukraine are sending these coupons to their girlfriends in the US? How many German computer programmers working in India are sending them back to their mother in Duesseldorf? So, the general flow is that the coupons are bought in rich Western nations and redeemed in the worlds' poorer countries. Of course, Western nations do not complain about this but the IRC scheme is a real drain on the resources of the postal services in many less fortunate states.
There is no prospect that these treaties will be renegotiated to balance the flow of coupons and so the postal services which lose out react in the only way that they can. From time to time, they simply refuse to accept the validity of the coupons. Give the high levelsof rumour and pessimism about official insitutions in the Former Soviet Union, it is no surprise to hear from time to time that "International Reply Coupons are not accepted in Russia". The reality is that, sometimes they are and sometimes, they are not.
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