Legalisation of abortion and decline in crime

By Jori Korpershoek

In the 1970s and 80s New York was a dangerous, dodgy city. In the early 90s this suddenly started to change. Many claimed Mayor Giuliani's policies had done the trick. But then people noticed it was not just New York, it was in all of the United States that was becoming safer. Homicide and crime rates dropped dramatically. John J. Donohueand Steven D. Levitt agreed with Giuliani that a policy change lay at the heart of the decline. Just not a recent one; they pointed to the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which had made safe abortions legal and accessible all over the country.

Structural determination is when there is a causal link between two events, but with a temporal separation between these events. How? Before 1973, it was especially underprivileged women who did not have access to safe abortions. So if a poor, single woman became pregnant at an unwanted time, she would have no choice but to have the baby. These are the same women who often lack a support network and access to government services. This obviously does not mean all children in poor families are destined to become criminals, but growing up in poverty or in a single parent household are very strong predictors of having a criminal future. When these women gained access to safe abortions, they could delay their pregnancy until a better time or opt out of having children at all.

From 1973 onward, many children that would have been raised in difficult circumstances were simply not born. In the early 90s, the first wave of children born after Roe v. Wade was starting to reach maturity. And for the first time since abortion became illegal in the 19th century, among them were not “the children of mothers who did not want to bring a child into the world.”

Marx’s theory of history through the scope of structural determinism

By Onno Blom

Structural determination is a causal process with an inevitable, determined, outcome. This process, once started, can fluctuate in all kinds of directions, but will always have to end with a particular outcome, as this outcome is irreversible and does not lead to anything else. This outcome can be caused by other causes, which may also be irreversible. A telling example of a famous theory which can be seen through the scope of structural determinism is Marx’s theory of history.

Marx divides history into six stages: primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and pure communism. In his theory, Marx finds that all of these stages necessarily lead to each other. All of these stages fall short in some way or another, often because of exploitation of the lowest class, and therefore, through revolutions and development led by the lowest class, this evolution of stages will naturally occur. Marx didn’t specify how long this would take, but he did state that all of this is a historical necessity: “the conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

Marx believed that once the stage of primitive communism had begun, his theory of history would always occur. We can identify this stage as the beginning in the structurally determined process: it triggers the process to start. The four stages following the start can be seen as the part where (irreversible) causes show up, each necessarily showing up sooner or later, and leading to the next stage of the process. The last stage of the process is pure communism and does not lead to anything else; it was the determined outcome since primitive communism began. It seems that through a Marxist view, structural determinism is not only a helpful analytical tool, but also a predictor of the future.  

New Shipping Routes and its Causal Processes

By Robin Vroom


On 11 September 2015, the Arctic sea ice reached its fourth lowest minimum in satellite records. This follows the long-term downward trend in Arctic ice coverage, which causes the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to currently be ice-free. The forecast of possible ice-free summers in a matter of decades has launched –among other consequences- the use of the lucrative NSR for high volume commercial traffic (see Figure 1).

Consequently, the NSR will increase the economic and political importance of the Arctic, which has prompted many nations to reassess their commitments and strategic interests towards the region. China, for instance, has already shown political interest in the Arctic by signing a free-trade agreement with Iceland in April 2013. Most recently –together with Japan and South Korea– China gained an observer status in the Arctic Council, which is the leading institutional forum for cooperation in the region.

These consequences suggest the presence of a causal chain. Within the chain, there are self-reinforcing mechanisms. Rising global temperatures – initiated by a cumulative cause of increased emission levels - have caused the Arctic sea to warm, resulting in reduced ice cover. Furthermore, this decreasing sea ice triggers a positive feedback process as sea ice has a much higher albedo compared to the surrounding ocean. That is, sea ice reflects 50 to 70 percent of the incoming solar energy –keeping the surface cooler- whereas the surrounding ocean only reflects about six percent and absorbs the rest. Ergo, the absorbed heat causes more ice to melt.

Although one can identify a causal chain of events around the Arctic, this does not mean that the story has ended. There is high level of uncertainty in terms of what an increase in commercial shipping in the Arctic could lead to. Investigating these paths and outcomes is out of the scope of this web post, but a logical avenue for more research.

How to go viral

By Lexi Rowland

The Law of the Few, explained in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, is the notion that certain types of people can cause a social epidemic due to the certain skills or connections these people have with their peers. These types of people are called the Connector, the Maven or the Salesman. Each type of person has a specific role in creating a social epidemic which in the past has caused fashion trends, the spread of sensational stories or a successful marketing campaign for a certain type of product. How then could any one blogger use this framework to go viral?

Not everyone falls into one of the categories described by Gladwell and in the past perhaps one person could not be solely responsible for the spread of an idea or trend. Social media however, has made the spread of ideas much easier for those who are not naturally part of the Few.

The Connector: In the past, the Connector has been someone who is influential in any given community and can easily talk to the right people in order to get a message out to the community. For example, a politician is highly influential in their communities as they have many friends, allies or acquaintances who are highly receptive to their ideas. Today, such a position need not be held by an individual in order to spread an idea. Many social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow easy connection to a community who are receptive to the thoughts or ideas of the person they are following. 

The Maven: A person recognized as a Maven is someone who has deep knowledge of a subject and is willing to share such knowledge with people who are willing to listen. Indeed, a Maven has been aided by the rise in social media as it provides a platform from which one can share such knowledge. The fashion industry is an extremely pertinent example of the reach a Maven might have in a community. In the context of today, a Maven is aided by social media as people who are interested in a certain topic may follow a perceived Maven's platform and therefore be highly receptive to said Maven's ideas.

The Salesman: Almost quite obviously, the Salesman is a persuasive individual who is able to successfully engage a community and sell an idea convincingly. This can be done in a variety of ways however, the most common way may be seen in the many successful marketing campaigns of big companies around the world. Again, social media makes persuasion much easier as the idea or campaign is much easily spread; all the Salesman needs to do be a clever marketer. 

Therefore, should someone want to go viral on a social media platform today, he needs to be a combination of the above people. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and others make connections a lot easier to forge between people within a virtual community. The Maven still needs to be knowledgeable about his subject, but spreading his ideas need not be as difficult as in the past. The Salesman still needs to be persuasive however, he needs not to persuade every person he meets. Creating a receptive following, a legitimate idea and social media will do the rest.

Oil, Islam, women and Pierson

By Lisa Staadegaard

In his paper Oil, Islam and Women Ross argues that oil can be held accountable for inequality in resource rich countries. Part of this theory is that the effects that resources, and in particular oil and minerals, have on the economy causes women to refrain from entering or leave the labour force.

In his explanation of this theory he portrays women’s influence on the labour force, and the influence this has on society.  He states that more female participation in the labour force will cause fertility rates to drop which will then in turn cause for a decline in population growth.

If we apply this example to Pierson’s theories about long term processes we can pin point several aspects of this example that break down its process. The female participation has an immediate effect on fertility rates, once one woman enters the labour force her fertility drops. Therefore this process can be seen as cumulative, more and more women entering the labour force will result in lower and lower fertility rates, which directly relates to a decline in population growth.  

However there is a clear relationship between women entering the labour force and this causing population growth to decline. So this cumulative process leads to an inevitable outcome, making this process according to Pierson; structural determination.

However the process described can have several different explanations, in line with Ross his paper this could be moving away from an economy solely based on the nontradable sector.  Once this is included in the model we might relate the process to an entirely different long term process as described by Pierson. Therefore I think that Pierson’s way of analysing processes, is mainly helpful to break down the entire process of cause and effect. This instead of pin pointing whether one process necessarily belongs to a certain type. 

The influence of time on revolutions' outcomes

By Lorraine Besnier

In his book, Pierson states that “organization A was successful because it ‘fit’ well in that particular context.” In other words, he explains that one has to examine whether or not precise features can foster self-reinforcing processes in a given situation. This claim made me think about social revolutions and how their success are mostly based on the context in which they happen.

In this post, I will attempt to show that time has an important role in the outcomes of revolutions.

The French revolution started in a context of increasing international conflict, but also inside economic, political and social crisis. With the help from the philosophers of the Enlightenment, the population of France took over the power and instated democracy. Indubitably, this considerable change was achieve throughout years of instability, different governments, and series of dilemma.

However, France eventually accomplished the change, and developed to become an integral part of the international relations actors, and a leading economic power.

The Arab Spring, in contrast, had different conditions. In a completely different situation, it is hard for a country to grow, and accomplish changes, like France for instance, because all the international organisations have an increasing role to play in the national conflicts.

It is quasi impossible in such a situation to make the needed, but mostly wanted, adjustments when an external factor is included in the equation. With essential humanitarian help from the outside comes the inevitable administration of the political challenges. The decades that France required to stabilised are not offered to the Arabic countries, and democracy is, in certain cases, forced upon them, and expected to work in only a couple of months.

Time matters, not only in terms of timing but in terms of duration. Both the context in which an event happens, and the length in time which it is allowed to rise, climax and resolve are essential factors to the outcomes of those events.

The Scottish referendum and the UK general election

By Lisa Day

The 2015 UK General Election revealed that the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) took 50% of the vote within the Scottish Borders, which is up by 30 points from 2010. Labour, on the other hand, dropped 17.7 points from 2010. The SNP completely obliterated the Labour Party out of Scotland by gaining 56 out of the 59 seats. The causes behind the SNP’s victorious outcome, which has been hailed as a "historical watershed", may be down to the particular sequencing and timing of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.

According to Pierson, the “timing and sequence of particular events or processes can matter a great deal. Settings where event A precedes event B will generate different outcomes than ones where that ordering is reversed.” As mentioned above the main difference between this election and the last is that a Scottish Independence Referendum was held just before the 2015 vote. Although the SNP ended up 'losing' the referendum with a majority vote of “No” to independence, the Labour Party seems to have lost Scotland altogether. The referendum campaign seems to have left the SNP stronger than ever. “Indeed, the SNP is no longer just a party, it is a movement — and one boasting, per capita, more than twice as many members as the three main unionist parties combined.” Since the referendum the nationalist party gained 1/50 of all adult Scots in members. It is clearly evident that this huge increase in members and support for the SNP triggered such a historical victory for the party.

In addition, the SNP can also be seen as a party filling up political space - a particular feature of sequencing that involves a first mover advantage. “Labour’s hegemony in Scotland needed an opposition and the SNP was happy to fill that void.”

The timing of the Scottish Independence Referendum appears to have materialized the SNP’s election victory within the Scottish borders whilst the party also acted with a first mover advantage by providing the Scots with an alternative, optimistic and conceivable future.