Punctuality and economic growth

So, I spend 95 percent of my life in Turkey (I’ve measured this carefully) rending my garments because no one is ever on time for anything. The word “deadline” has no meaning whatsoever. “I’ll see you at noon” is a description of a day, or perhaps a week, not a time. Yesterday I nearly dropped sideways with shock because a repairman told me he would be here within 90 minutes and was, indeed, here within 90 minutes. The event was so rare that at first I was suspicious. Was he a spy? A burglar? When I concluded the man had really come to fix something–and when he in fact fixed it, promptly and competently–I had to fight back moist tears of gratitude and wonderment.

I did a search on Google Scholar. I had expected to see a correlation, but was amazed to see how strong it was. The list of the world’s most punctual countries correlates almost perfectly with the list of the world’s wealthiest countries, and the list of the world’s least punctual correlates almost perfectly to the list of the world’s worst economic basket cases.

I’m not sure what to make of this. It goes against common sense to imagine that punctuality could be a significantly more important determinant of economic development than, say, form of government, natural resources, war, levels of corruption, contract law, etc. But this level of correlation is pretty rare in the social sciences, and you can’t easily dismiss it as largely coincidence.

Is this something we’re overlooking in our economic thinking? Should the IMF and the World Bank be urging countries to implement punctuality campaigns as a condition of development assistance? If not, why not? Am I missing something here?

I haven’t spent a lot of time in the US lately. Have standards of punctuality declined?