Published Papers

2017. Racing to the Bottom or to the Top? Decentralization and Governance Reform in China. World Development 95, 164-176 (with Peter Lorentzen and Daniel Mattingly)

Working Papers

Do Protests Fall on Deaf Ears? The Repercussions of Blunt Force Regulation in China

What Does it Mean to be a Weak State? Strong and Weak States in the Developing World

Escaping the Poverty Trap: A Natural Experiment from Central Asia

Book Project

Clean Air at What Cost? The Rise of Blunt Force Pollution Regulation in China

In China, and in much of the developing world, attempts to regulate pollution are frequently undermined by corrupt bureaucrats and powerful local businesses. Most states have attempted to solve this problem through bottom-up “fire alarm” mechanisms—whereby citizen protests expose egregious pollution violations. In China, however, the state has opted for a top-down “blunt force” solution, whereby the government forcibly shuts down entire industries. Using satellite data on pollution and an original dataset on municipal enforcement measures, I demonstrate that blunt force regulation has successfully reduced pollution across China’s prefectural-level cities. However, case studies reveal that blunt force pollution reduction is achieved at an immense cost to local employment, revenue and growth rates.

Why would a state capable of delivering decades of high growth, censoring the internet, and controlling birth rates, have to resort to such an unsophisticated, costly method of pollution control? Drawing on interviews and data from two years of field research, I argue that blunt force regulation is a product of the Chinese state’s particular combination of strong coercive power but weak bureaucratic oversight.

Examples of blunt force regulation can also be found in Russia, Latin America, and Southeast Asia: states engage in short term solutions to regulatory problems that seem rash, heavy-handed, and counter to leaders’ political interests. This book presents a theory for why these measures might be rational in light of the specific institutional challenges of authoritarian states, or of weakly institutionalized states. In so doing, it offers a fresh take on what it means to be a strong or weak state