Wait for people to get out of the carriage, an informal institution in public transport

By Joost Koot

In the Netherlands and many other countries it is the custom to let people leave a form of public transport before you enter it. I would argue that this is an informal institution. There tend to be no formal rules about what to do when, for example, a train or metro arrives at the station. However often it can be witnessed that the people on the platform allow the passengers to get out, before they get in. This is viewed as being polite behaviour.

While there is no formal enforcement for this informal institution, it can be argued there are forms of informal enforcement. Depending on where you do not follow the rule, and who are on the platform, forms of enforcement can range from angry looks to people actively confronting you about your behaviour.

Interestingly, in his book about how American prisons are controlled by gangs, David Skarbek argues that before gang control, prisons were governed by norms and informal institutions. Due to a massive increase in prison population and diversity of the population, this was no longer possible

This relates to behaviour at public transport stops because especially in big cities stations can be very busy and have people from different backgrounds. On top of this, as opposed to norms in prison, the chances of running into the same people afterwards, or them recognizing you are quite small. Also the punishment for not following informal institutions is much less severe within public transport than in prison, where not following the norms might get you killed

I would argue that the reason the norm to let people get out first can still holds is that when entering you are split into relatively small groups. The big group of people waiting tends to split into smaller groups, each waiting at one of the doors. After entering you tend to be in a carriage with the same people as that you were waiting with. The pressure of these small groups might just be enough to have people observe the norm.

Strikes and democracy

By Joost Koot

In “Forging democracy from below: Insurgent transitions in South Africa and El Salvador” Elisabeth Wood argues that the way the South-African apartheid regime was convinced to negotiate about equality between black and white, was by hurting their economic interests. She also mentions that a way of hurting the economic interests of the elite was by striking.

In the western world strikes are also used to hurt the interest of the elite, but in a different way. By striking, the personnel tries to force their employer to give in to their wishes. (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/strike?q=strikes)

Nowadays the mere threat of strikes can be enough to start negotiations between unions and employers, or to bump the ongoing negotiations in the favour of unions. The reason for this is similar as in South Africa around the time of the abolishment of Apartheid: it hurts the economic interests of a certain party.

As opposed to that time however, long continuous resistance is generally not necessary to start the negotiations. Actions or resistance that are considered long in modern conflicts between unions and employers do not even come close to the length of the battle in South Africa.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the continued resistance Wood uses in her argument can apply to modern day relationships between unions and employers. A big difference however is that the threat of long lasting resistance has become enough to convince employers to negotiate.

An example of this can be an agreement reached between Fiat Chrysler and a union in America. After threatening strikes, the two parties managed to come to an agreement that resulted in the strikes being called off. (http://www.windsorstar.com/business/continue+bargaining+midnight+strike+threat+looms/11421272/story.html?__lsa=45f1-5c47

Gerrymandering: small changes with big consequences

By Joost Koot

Sometimes, small things can have a big influence. Some academics that argue for this are Banerjee and Duflo. With randomised controlled trials they try to show that small changes in small institutions can have a positive impact. Gerrymandering is also a relatively small change within the institutions that make up democracy, of which the influence can be big. Gerrymandering however can have very negative consequences. Gerrymandering is the act of redrawing voting districts, to favour your own party. Redrawing district borders is not always bad. It is used to make up for changes in the population compared to when the borders were first drawn.

However redrawing districts can give political parties the ability to ‘cheat’ in elections by drawing the districts in a way that favours them. There are two main tactics for this. In the first one, you put as many of the opponent’s voters in as few districts as possible. This causes you to have the ability to have more districts for yourself. The second way of gerrymandering involves you cracking the districts. You spread out as many of your opponent’s voters over as many districts as possible to make sure they do not have a majority in any district. 

The relatively minor changes to the voting districts can have major consequences. Parties can be guaranteed to win the elections, before they even start campaigning depending on how loyal the voters are. Undermining the principles of democracy, gerrymandering could cause elections to be pointless. However, of course it only works if parties are able to predict who their voters are going to be. If everyone is an undecided voter, Gerrymandering becomes a lot more difficult