Changing the legal drinking age in the Netherlands

By Nynke de Vette

Mahoney and Thelen argue that institutions have basic dynamic properties that permit change, one of these properties being the distribution of resources with unequal implications such that there are winners and losers to a particular rule. The other property is compliance, where the limitations of rule compliance create space for rule change without actually changing the rules.  

Prior to 2014, the legal drinking age in the Netherlands was 16 years. However, this was changed to 18 years on January 1st 2014. Effectively, the selling to and possession of alcohol by those under the age of 18 became illegal. The government’s decision was grounded on the idea that teenagers should be protected from the harmful effects of alcohol until they are officially regarded as adults. Another motivation was to reduce the incidence of alcohol-induced hospitalization, which had been increasing since 2007. (see figure)

The rule change had implications especially for those that were between the age of 16 and 18. Whereas 16-year-olds had been able to purchase alcohol in 2013, this was suddenly no longer possible; they now had to wait another 2 years. Thus, this group of people can be considered the losers of the new rule, whereas the winners were those that had just passed the age of 18. For this group of people the motivation to change the rules comes from the effect of the rules themselves.

It is then important to discuss the role of compliance. Compliance is complicated through the contested nature of rules, as well as the degree of openness in the interpretation and enforcement of rules. Enforcement is especially relevant in the case discussed above, because the intention of the policy change is not reflected in the figures. Instead, the incidence of alcohol-induced hospitalization has further increased since 2013. This is because the rule is unable to cover the complexities of all possible real-world situations. Those under the age of 18 have been able to obtain alcohol from friends and through the use of fake IDs.

The Inefficient Imperial System

By Nynke de Vette

The British Imperial System was a system of units established upon order of George IV on June 17th 1824 and became effective on January 1st 1825. The system was implemented across the entire British Empire, but today all countries except the United States have converted to the metric system. The United States uses a slightly altered imperial system called the customary system.

Arguably, this is inefficient. The co-ordination effects argument as an economic driver of path dependency is reversed here. Usually the more people that use a system, the more profitable it is to use it also. By sticking to the imperial system, the United States kind of becomes an outsider. Furthermore, as with QWERTY and alternative keyboard layouts, it is questionable which of the 2 systems is more efficient. The metric system has certain logic to it its based on multiples of 10, whereas the imperial system units have archaic associations.

Thus, considering the inefficiency, what role do sequence and timing play in the system’s persistence?  

In answering this question, it is important to look at the history of measurement systems in the US. As part of the British Empire the Americans inherited the imperial system, also because the Americans themselves had established no alternative system. Meanwhile in France, after the French Revolution of 1789, the first attempt was made to unify the mix of thousands of traditional units of measure. This did not go unnoticed in the US, but when Thomas Jefferson presented a plan to Congress to adopt the metric system in 1790, Congress did not adopt it. Opponents considered the metric system as atheistic. The years after independence different states started developing their own standards. When the lack of uniformity started becoming problematic it was decided to establish a common system named customary units.

The timing and sequence of the introduction of the US customary units have exposed it to path dependency through the mechanism of positive feedback. The cost of switching is a cost-benefit analysis. However, it is interesting to note that with the rise of globalization (ie. international trade) the metric system has become more common in the United States also.

Historical approaches to LUC

By Nynke de Vette

Tilly, Steinmo and Bates argue for different methods on how to do history and social science research. The types can be summarized in a quadrant distinguishing between large versus small-scale analysis and a humanistic versus social science approach. The variation in research approaches lead to different kinds of questions. Taking LUC as an institution that Tilly, Steinmo and Bates want to research, what kind of questions would each scholar ask?

Tilly’s approach is the most comprehensive in terms of scale and approach. For example, a large-scale humanistic approach would result in the study of mentalities. I think an interesting study that can result from this would be to investigate the types of people LUC tends to attract in terms of personality and opinion on ‘Global Challenges.’

Bates, through an analytic narrative, could follow up from this research by investigating the effect of the student composition on the rest of the institution. How does it affect classroom discussion? Do people often think the same thing leading to little discussion? How does it affect the campus life? The narrative component would entail identifying patterns of behaviour and interaction through interviews and surveys. I think the use of games is appropriate here, because the observed patterns and generalization can thereby be formalized.  

Steinmo argues for an approach named historical institutionalism, which seeks to explain real-world outcomes by looking at the role of institutions and by using history as an analytical tool. I believe Steinmo would be interested in explaining what careers LUC graduates pursue. He would look at how LUC as an institution prepares students for careers through the content and quality of the academic programme. History plays a major role in this research question as all the evidence is found amongst former LUC students. Thus, Steinmo would investigate the graduating classes as a whole, but also by individual cases. It would require investigating old curriculum documents also.