Blunt Force Regulation and Bureaucratic Control: Understanding China’s War on Pollution. Governance, 34, no. 1 (2021): 191-209

Can Police Patrols Prevent Pollution? The Limits of Authoritarian Environmental Governance in ChinaComparative Politics, 53(3), April 2021, pp. 403-433

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

Manuscripts in Progress

High Maintenance of Low Maintenance? Environmental Policy Implementation in China (with Iza Ding)

Governance by Uncertainty: Bureaucratic Control and Ad Hoc Policy Implementation in China

Book Manuscript

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

(Forthcoming with Cambridge University Press)

In China, and in much of the developing world, attempts to regulate pollution are frequently undermined by non-compliant bureaucrats and powerful local businesses. Governments have tried to solve this problem through bottom-up “fire alarm” mechanisms, where politicians lean on NGOs and civil society to expose egregious pollution violations. China, however, has opted for a top-down “blunt force” solution, where the state 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 government capable of delivering rapid economic growth, censoring the Internet, and controlling birth rates, resort to such a costly, unsustainable method of pollution control? Drawing on interviews and data from two years of field research, I argue that blunt force regulation echoes a longstanding practice of political leaders compromising fair and effective regulation for greater control over non-compliant bureaucrats. When institutions are too weak to hold bureaucrats accountable, central leaders increase oversight by drastically reducing the number of steps and resources required to produce a regulatory outcome—resulting in blunt force measures.

This book also examines the use of blunt force regulation worldwide: It focuses on situations (such as coronavirus lockdowns) where governments deploy short term solutions to regulatory problems that seem rash, heavy-handed, or counter to leaders’ political interests. Through these examples, this book exposes pockets of institutional weakness found in regulatory regimes around the world, and traces how these weaknesses drive unexpected enforcement choices.

Other Publications

2018. “Will China’s Waste Ban Force a Global Cleanup?”East Asia Forum, December 7 2018