Obama’s opportunity

By Jan Bogaarts

On June 26th 2015 the United States Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right in the case of Obergefell et al. v. Hodges. This decision was supported by 5 of the 4 justices, a small but huge difference. Gay marriage and LGBT rights have played an important role in american politics especially since the 1970´s. Activists, politicians and celebrities have stood in the face of injustice when the odds were against them. Harvey Milk, Harry Hay and many others paved what has been the path of change for the institution of marriage.

The last notorious civil rights movement in the United States was that against racial discrimination and segregation. Today the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is seen by many as the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. However the man who signed the Act was Lyndon Baines Johnson, the democratic president of the United States between 1963 and 1969. Not only did Johnson sign, he closely worked with Dr. King to design the act and put it in motion.

Often U.S. presidents are judged by their legacy. LBJ’s legacy is civil rights (and the Vietnam war). The civil rights movement opened a political space for Lyndon Johnson and the democratic party to move into. The democratic party is seen today as the more progressive one and is more likely to be chosen by minorities. If the U.S. president at the time had been republican, the democratic party may not have had an edge over the them. This shows the importance of timing in politics.

The timing of the Supreme Court ruling gives president Obama a chance building his “legacy”. In other words, the Supreme Court ruling has created a political space in which president Obama has a first mover advantage to create a legacy for him and the democratic party. Occupying this political space reinforces the image of democrats as progressive and open minded but the fact that it happened during their presidency is just a coincidence.

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. 

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.