9/11 as a Critical Juncture

 By Casper Gelderblom

“Today,” a French newspaper announced on September 12, 2001, “we are all Americans.” The terror of the previous day had felt like an attack on everyone, everywhere. Indeed, the shockwaves of “9/11” hit Europe hard. The attacks’ immense political salience led to the rapid adoption of a record number of joint EU security policies. Thus, the immediate aftermath of 9/11 can be seen as a critical juncture in the development of EU security governance. The course of this critical juncture, however, can only be fully understood if antecedent conditions are considered.

Capoccia and Kelemen attribute two main characteristics to critical junctures: they expand the range of choices open to political actors and, in Pierson’s words, “place institutional arrangements on paths (…) difficult to alter.” In the context of EU security policy, these characteristics neatly apply to 9/11’s immediate aftermath. Den Boer describes how after 9/11 “all of a sudden, decisions were possible” in the area of EU security governance. Emergency summits were organised and effective decisions were taken. Within two weeks from 9/11, EU member states agreed on an Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism, which contained over sixty joint European security policy measures. Before the 9/11 critical juncture, member states’ insistence on national sovereignty rendered such measures impossible. This placed EU security governance on a self-reinforcing path of increasing cooperation; Argomaniz describes how this path eventually led to the European Security Strategy launched in 2003 and the expansion of Europol competences in 2005.

Decisions made during the 9/11 critical juncture cannot entirely explain this development of EU security governance, as they depended on what
Mahoney calls antecedent conditions, which define the range of options available to actors in critical junctures. After 9/11, European policy-makers could either strengthen national policies or reconsider joint European designs they had blocked in 1999. Pressured to take swift action, policymakers favoured these pre-existing designs. Without considering the antecedent condition of the availability of these designs, the course of the 9/11 critical juncture cannot fully be understood.   

Child Marriage in Ethiopia: an Analysis of Critical Junctures

By Kelsey Bischot

Mahoney argues that when the choices of key actors are critical juncture points, it leads to the formation of institutions that have self-reproducing properties. Critical junctures are choice points when a particular option is adopted from among two or more alternatives. These critical points in time then lead to the structural persistence of institutions.

Critical junctures are usually thought of on a large scale, affecting central institutions and their countries, but I pose the importance of smaller critical junctures such as ones in villages created by “plain folk.”

When Aberash Bekele was 14 years old she had to make a decision that would impact not only her future, but the future of her village and women’s rights. Bekele was abducted from her home in a small village in Ethiopia (child abduction is an accepted method of marriage in Ethiopia) and was faced with a dark menu of options: either accept it like all the other girls in her village did before her, or escape and make her own future. In the end, she killed her abductor, but was arrested immediately and it took three years until the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association was able to fight her case and release her. After this event, things changed dramatically in Bekele’s village. For the next seven to eight years, not one girl got abducted, because people knew that there were consequences. Thus, the institution against abduction changed from being widely disregarded to slowly becoming more accepted and followed in this small village. This could potentially be an institutional example for the rest of Ethiopia.

Mahoney argues that critical junctures will lead to the persistence of the institution, which so far has been the case in this small village in Ethiopia, but only time will tell if it truly produces an outcome of institutional change. 

The right to be forgotten

By Robin Vroom

 University of Leiden 
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   Figure 1. Simplified reactive sequence chains of    the events    leading up to the “right to be forgotten” (sequence 1) and the external processes that took place at the same time (sequence 2).  

Figure 1. Simplified reactive sequence chains of the events leading up to the “right to be forgotten” (sequence 1) and the external processes that took place at the same time (sequence 2).  

In May 2014 the controversial “right to be forgotten,” came into effect after the European Court of Justice ruled that EU citizens can submit a request for the removal of any web-content that misrepresents them in either an inadequate, no longer relevant or otherwise harmful way. The content itself will not be deleted but search engines will not list the content in their search results. This has spurred controversy over how to balance freedom of speech and public interest with rights to privacy, leaving difficult judgement calls regarding privacy issues in the hands of private companies. For the purpose of this blog post I will look beyond this controversy and rather focus on its origin, specifically on the reactive sequence in which issues of privacy and data protection in Europe have become more salient after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on details of the US global data surveillance programs. I argue that this sequence has greatly influenced the “right to be forgotten.”   

Reactive sequences – according to Mahoney (2000) – are chains of reactions and counter reactions that are temporally ordered and causally connected and display a movement towards reversing previous patterns. The events are both a reaction to antecedent events as a cause of subsequent events.

Edwards Snowden’s revelations were a reaction to a society of mass surveillance. Though the information released was primarily related to government surveillance, its ramifications were far wider. While opening the eyes of people around the world the behaviour and actions of people, businesses, governments and courts have all undergone changes, and those changes have an impact. Snowden stirred debate on how to safeguard privacy in the current information age, causing intensified public concerns over intrusive collection, usage and storage of data. 

This represents a reactive sequence and the timing of the separate events illustrates the continuation of the process, I illustrated this in the figure below. If Snowden’s revelations, for instance, had been made earlier or later, this could have led to different European parliament and court decisions.  

Critical junctures in South Africa

By Kristy Charlton

A critical juncture is seen as the moment “when there are two possible choices to choose from and once selected it becomes difficult to return to the initial point when other alternatives were available”. At this juncture, change is possible.

On the 27th of April 1994, South Africa held their first multiracial democratic elections. The democratic elections saw the power shift to the social democratic political party known as the African National Congress (ANC) as well as the countries first black president Mr. Nelson Mandela. Before the rainbow nation was created, South Africa was a nation of segregating its race, land and its political ideals, this was known as Apartheid.

A critical juncture led to this shift in power from the National Party, consisting of an all-white government and promoting Afrikaner nationalism, to a social democratic multiracial political party.

During the ruling of the National Party from 1948 many demonstrations were held against the party and the police, one being the Sharpeville massacre where police opened fire on a group of unarmed blacks associated with the Pan-African Congress (PAC), an offshoot of the ANC. There were also demonstrations for having Afrikaans as the medium language of the country, another retaliation from the oppressed members of society.

The NP held power during an economic recession and on 1973 the United Nations denounced apartheid and heavy sanctions were placed on the country.

A combination of the sanctions, retaliation of the black communities, the rise of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela from Robin Island led to a critical juncture. This critical juncture led to a new constitution, elections that led to a coalition government with a non-white majority and the end to the apartheid system. The ANC shifted the country to a democracy; their power shift influenced a new constitution of fair and equal rights among all racial and gender groups. 

Democratic divergence

By Laura Ombelet

North Korea is notorious for being a totalitarian dictatorship. However just south of the border sits South Korea, a full fledged democracy. The drastic divergence in regime change since 1945 begs the question; how did this happen?

Mahoney’s article ‘Path-dependent Explanations of Regime Change’ centre’s on the idea that divergent regimes in Central America can partially be explained by the choice of ‘reform’ or ‘radical’ policy at the liberal policy choice critical juncture. I wanted to see if it was possible to apply the same concept to North and South Korea. Following World War II and Japan's departure, North and South Korea’s leaders faced a critical juncture; what type of state structure to adopt in the aftermath of independence. If we follow Mahoney’s argument one would assume that South Korea chose reform type characteristics; less state coercion, smaller land estates and less land privatisation. It’s these reform policy options that Mahoney claims led to liberal democracies in Central America. However South Korea’s strong anti-communist agenda led to the implementation of a highly coercive autocratic dictatorship. It wasn’t reformist policies that enforced democratic institutions but the endogenous growth of the democratisation movement in opposition to authoritarian rule that eventually led to South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987. The adoption of radical institutions did not reinforce themselves and consequently it was possible to switch institutional tracks to democracy. 

In North Korea a communist state was imposed and although conditions were harsh, North Koreans were better off than their southern counterparts. Therefore, there was no development of a democratisation movement in response to autocracy and endogenous change did not occur.

Although Mahoney’s theory of ‘reform’ versus ‘radicalisation’ is applicable to Central America, the same cannot be said for North and South Korea. The growth of the democratic movement is only one part of South Korea’s democratic growth story, however it is possible to see that regime divergence often has many causes. 



Trapped in the institutional matrix

By Jori Korpershoek

When he was accused of not having enough experience in politics, 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot claimed that “I don’t have any experience in gridlock government … I don't have any experience in creating the worst public school system in the industrialized world. ... [But unlike my competition] I’ve got a lot of experience in not taking 10 years to solve a 10-minute problem.” Much like the social scientists Pierson describes in the introduction of "Politics in Time", Perot only looked at a snapshot of the problems of government. Not the moving picture. Nobody would consciously design the American public school systems like it is today, but that is not how politics work. It has been pieced together from legislation to legislation.

Steven Teles borrows an analogy from technology to describe this process; he calls it “kludgeocracy.”  A kludge is an “an ill-assorted collection of parts” put together to solve a problem. This can be compared to an old software program to which additions and patches have been made for decades and decades. It might still technically work, but it is probably not pleasant to use and it is impossible to add new functionality.

In technology, the slate can be wiped clean. The introduction of iOS and Android kept many of the useful aspects of their desktop predecessors, but also removed a whole lot of the weird workarounds that accumulated over the years.

In a political democracy, such a reset button is harder to push. The question is whether this is a bug or a feature. Designing a new starting point and breaking away from history has given us The Weimar Republic,  Soviet Russia and Revolutionary France. But increasing complexity, indecipherable laws and a lack of choice is also a threat to democracy. It slowly shifts the power from the people to the thousands and thousands of pages ofaccumulated legislation. We become trapped in the “institutional matrix.”

Putin’s power

By Reinout Huizer

Russia’s political landscape is changing and the political asymmetry shifting. Over the past decade Vladimir Putin has been expanding his power and he has been redesigning the institutions in order to do so. Putin has served two terms as prime minister and currently is in office as the president of Russia for the second time. It has been argued that the increase in power of an actor is closely related to path dependence. Vladimir Putin is paving a one-way street with him leading its direction, his direction.

The allocation of political authority to particular actors, Vladimir Putin in the case of Russia, is a key source of positive feedback. In Politics in Time Paul Pierson argues that positive feedback can be seen as a form of path dependence and that one should focus on the dynamics of self-reinforcement in political processes. Looking at the self-reinforcing dynamics in Russian politics the focus is directly on the changes and decisions Putin has made.

Putin has been trying to strengthen the federal government. He has tried to change the balance between the center and periphery by shifting the power to the Kremlin. By reducing the political asymmetry regional power will be reduced. This change has had serious effects on local communities because they lost power and with that their voice to speak up. The centralization of the Russian government has reduced the influence of smaller political entities (or opposition) something that is favorable for Putin.

To conclude, due to its current leader Russia’s power relations are becoming more and more uneven. Based on the theory of positive feedback these power asymmetries will continue to increase and power relations will become less visible. In other words, Putin will gain more power and use it in order to sustain and strengthen his position. 

British small coal wagons

By Casper Gelderblom

In 1900, Britain’s industrial railway system, characterized by its small coal wagons, was completely outdated. Modernization would have led to enormous savings in operating costs. However, the railways’ regulating system, designed to protect wagon owners against railway companies, discouraged stakeholders from pursuing modernization. The small coal wagons that persisted in British railway traffic until the late 1940s offer a strong example of how positive feedback processes can lead to inefficiency in path dependence. At the same time, however, these processes cannot convincingly explain the eventual replacement of these small wagons.

The four features Brian Arthur
identified as drivers of positive feedback help explain the persistence of the small wagon system. Firstly, replacing the outdated regulating system was discouraged by the large set-up costs associated with establishing a new system. Secondly, all stakeholders had become skilled in operating within the inefficient system. These learning effects discouraged stakeholders from replacing their wagons, which would largely render their skills useless. Thirdly, under the old system coordination effects had made small wagons the only accepted wagon type. These effects formed a coordination problem in replacing the existing system, as savings could only be realised if a large number of railway companies changed their facilities. This, however, was discouraged by the regulating system. Lastly, since coordination effects supported the existing system, stakeholders’ adaptive expectations were such that they feared ‘picking the wrong horse’ by investing in new technologies that did not match with the existing infrastructure.

Arthur’s approach implies that the old wagon system could only change if the set-up costs of a new system were lower than its prospective gains. Although this never happened, the small wagon system was eventually replaced through an institutional change instigated by a variable Arthur left out of his equation: the role of ideas. The British government that decided to nationalise the railways and so replace the outdated regulatory system, pursued “
radical” leftist policies. Ideas, not prospective gains, thus led to the end of the British small coal wagons.   

The importance of learning and competition for institutions

By Rens Edwards

In class we discussed three characteristics that make path-dependency effects in politics intense. We touched upon the shorter time horizons and the strong status-quo bias in politics extensively, but we skimmed over the absence of efficiency-enhancing mechanisms of competition and learning. The latter could use some clarification through an example.

Competition and learning as efficiency-enhancing mechanisms can appropriately be applied to economics. In financial markets, firms contend with each other to become the leader in a particular sector, which creates competition. Due to the existing competition, more efficient firms develop which eliminate the firms that cannot keep up. This process causes “auto correction” within the financial sectors. Learning processes also stimulate companies to strive for the highest efficiency. Firms learn from other firms and from themselves to become more efficient.

In politics however, competition and learning are not as straightforward as in economics. Competition does occur during elections, but generally political institutions do not compete with each other to become more efficient. Learning processes occur sometimes when institutions receive feedback on newly implemented policies, but this happens much less frequently than efficiency corrections in economics.

Political institutions in the world of football are a good illustration of inefficient organizations. The FIFA is the main organization, which consists of six sub-organizations including the UEFA. Despite the existence of multiple organizational bodies, almost no corrections have taken place to make the FIFA (or its subdivisions) more efficient. The FIFA simply stayed on the same unethical path, until finally an intervention occurred recently forcing the FIFA to make drastic institutional changes.

The absence of competition and learning is clear in “permissive” political environments like the FIFA. Political institutions generally lack auto-corrective mechanisms, making them more susceptible of pursuing the wrong track.

The 4G Network's Path Dependence

By Josh Treacher

What drives growth in the mobile and wireless Internet markets is consumer demand for high network performance and good value for money, according to an info-graphic by Commscope. By exploring the evolution of wireless networks from 3G to 4G, we can apply increasing returns to exemplify how this quick growth was an endogenous process.

While the majority of mobile phone networks were still providing customers with 3G connection in 2009, some providers began to invest large amounts of capital in upgrading their services to 4G, a mobile internet service much faster and more efficient than before.  W. Brian Arthur's theory of increasing returns can be applied here upon four factors: 1) large set-up costs, 2) learning effects, 3) coordination effects and 4) adaptive expectations.

1) According to AT&T, arguably the mobile phone provider in the USA with the largest market share to date, may owe its success not only to being the exclusive vendors of the iphone, but also to being one of the first providers to have heavily invested in a 4G network.

2) For consumers, understanding the benefits of 4G over 3G increases the demand for the technology and thus increase the likelihood of further innovations in the development of 4G.

3) As more mobile phone providers adopt 4G, the higher the competition is and so the more likely customers are going to receive value for money. The risk of losing customers for a phone provider to another that already adopted 4G played a strong role in this snowball effect of all providers upgrading their infrastructure.

4) Although other infrastructure options different to LTE 4G may have provided better internet for consumers, all phone providers now adopt LTE carrier technology in anticipation (and realisation) that it will be the dominant technology for providing 4G service.


Path dependency = positive feedback?

By Lisa Staadegaard

Pierson defines path dependence as "referring to social processes that exhibit positive feedback and thus generate branching patterns of historical development”. From this definition we can derive that Pierson uses path dependency and positive feedback interchangeably. Here positive feedback is defined as a process that generates increasing returns, its inflexible,  unpredictable, non ergodic and suffers from potential path inefficiency. However, are these concepts always the same?

The concept of positive feedback mechanisms is not only used in political science. It is especially popular in economics but can even be used to explain behaviour and biological processes. An example of this is given in a paper by Baker, where he claims that addiction is an instated positive feedback loop. Stating that appetitive drug actions increase appetitive stimuli resulting in an increase in drug use. This example perfectly fits the above given criteria for positive feedback, however can we call this a path dependent process?

This really depends on the definition used, if we look at the narrower definition proposed by Margaret Levi, path dependency is supposed to involve countries. Then, we could easily argue that the addiction example is not a path dependent process.

Path dependency in social sciences is used to describe a sequence of events, and should point out the importance of historical processes. In many other sciences we can see a similar pattern where A causes B which then leads to ‘increasing returns’, as portrayed by the drug example. However these examples often do not include such a heavy reliance on history, and are often not as irreversible as processes in politics or economics. Therefore the terms path dependence and positive feedback processes may be used interchangeably in political science, but cannot be used interchangeably in many other sciences. 

Why basic income policy is implemented precisely now

By Onno Blom

The first appearance of the idea of a basic income can be traced back to the enlightened thinkers of the 18th century, but was introduced to the Western world most successfully in the 20th century by Milton Friedman. What Friedman proposed as a “negative income tax”, the idea of giving people unrestricted subsidy, has been ignored for most of history when it comes to policy. Interestingly, recently politicians have started giving in and momentarily 28 municipalities are experimenting with basic income. What factors can explain the current policy adaptation and why did it take so long?

Although the idea of basic income has been around for long, the popularity of it fluctuates. If we look at when the discussion on basic income increased, we see that this was particularly during times of recession. For example, during the 1980’s many politicians proposed social welfare based on a basic income, but large scale policy was never implemented due to lack of support. Comparably, the current rise in popularity started in 2013, when the consequences of the 2008 crisis were strongly felt.

Even when policy ideas are present and support is sufficient, implementation can sometimes lag behind. Pierson ascribes this to the “opacity of politics”: what the voters want is not always clear for politicians, and voting is only sporadically used. This means that even if their might have been public support for the idea of a basic income before 2013, politicians were simply not aware of it. It took a long list of publications and quite some media attention for left-wing parties to realize that there was major backing, on which they could respond to ensure political capital. A combination of both the fluctuation of popularity and opacity can explain why policy has lagged behind for many years, but is now catching up. 

World War II: path dependence or autonomous choice?

By Anique Zwaan

One of the most iconic events in modern history is the Second World War (WW II). This event is still carved into many minds, and has left its marks on today’s society. Many scholars have debated and explained the origins and causes of this war, but in this blogpost we will look at it from a different perspective: was the occurance of WW II path depent or caused by choice?

The theory that WW II was path dependent would mean that the start of this war cannot be explained in terms of short-term processes and that multiple relatively small events have led to the war commence. In this case, one of the “relatively small events” would be the Treaty of Versailles, which stated Germany had to pay a great deal of money to various countries (e.g. the UK and France) in order to make up for the damage they had caused with World War I. This led to little to no economic growth in Germany in the interwar years; the country became poor, and an easy target for radicalization (i.e. Hitler and his beliefs). This would mean that once Hitler became powerful in Germany, WW II was bound to happen.

On the other hand, it could be argued that WW II was caused by decisions that had been made consciously, such as Churchill deciding to not interfere with Hitler’s propaganda before it was too late. Or Hitler’s decision to ignore the Treaty of Versailles and invade Poland, in order to realize his dreams of the Third Reich.

From this information, one could still not draw a conclusion whether WW II was indeed a path dependent event, or if it was caused by human made choices: it is up to the reader to decide.