Research

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)

Manuscripts in Progress

Blunt Force Regulation and Bureaucratic Control in Weak Institutional Environments (under review)

Can Police Patrols Prevent Pollution? The Limits of Top-Down Bureaucratic Control 

Governance by Uncertainty: Bureaucratic Control and Irregular Policy Implementation in China

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 non-compliant bureaucrats and powerful local businesses. Most governments have tried 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 emissions across China’s 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.