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In 1900, Britain’s industrial railway system, characterized by its small coal wagons, was completely outdated.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 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.