Working Papers

“Imposed Self-Interest: Local Resistance & the Top-Down Imposition of Land Finance in China”

Reform era China has become the paradigmatic academic model for economic growth generated by self-interest.  Their interests aligned by various incentive systems, officials and local governments act in their mutual self-interest to promote growth.  As a result, scholars have come to expect that the interests of Chinese state agents are broadly aligned with those of the institutions they represent.  Contrary to such models, this paper shows that local state agents resisted transitioning to China's land-based growth model despite lucrative incentives for local governments to do so, including the promise of valuable land revenue.  Instead, China's land-based growth model was imposed on reluctant state agents by the central government.  If it was in their institutional self-interest to do so, why did localities not promote land-based economic and revenue growth?  This paper argues that the purported alignment of institutional and personal interests only held for some aspects of Chinese governance.  In particular, it did not extend to land sales in the 1990s, with self-interested officials in control of local governments seeking personal rents from corrupt land deals at the expense of government revenue and economic growth.  Only through the imposition of top-down political discipline was China able to align the self-interest of state agents with that of local governments, creating the land-dependent economic and revenue model that has been central to China's rapid economic growth.

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The Landlord State: Land Allocation as a Tool of Industrial Policy in China

States routinely intervene in the pricing and allocation of capital and labor when engaging in industrial policy.  Drawing on evidence from China, where a landlord state imposed a state monopoly on urban land, this paper shows how interventions in the pricing and allocation of land can also be put into the service of industrial policy.  Much like other tools of industrial policy, state pricing and allocation of land requires a strong state, manifested through state building efforts to impose control over land resources.  In the case of China, these state building efforts spurred a broad growth coalition, spanning local governments, real estate developers, urban homeowners, and ultimately even peri-urban villagers; the political breadth of this growth coalition ultimately redirected the landlord state away from its industrial policy origins and towards frenetic real estate investment.

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“Fencing Off: Trading Institutional Constraints for Institutional Autonomy” (with Hou Li)

Politicians impose constraints on their own power in efforts to consolidate power.  In the literature on institutional constraints, leaders constrain their own power in exchange for support from the masses or capitalists, or to protect against future policy changes.  In this article, we explore why municipal governments sometimes constrain their power over urban development, the key locus of municipal power (and municipal officials’ personal rents) in rapidly urbanizing China.  We contend that officials in the municipality seek to constrain their power in order to increase their autonomy against meddling from above.  They are able to wrest autonomy by framing their institutional innovations as good governance reforms.

A Schematic Model of Chinese Political Economy

“Taking the Mayor’s Measure: Personnel Changes Associated with Turnover in Chinese Municipal Leadership”

Quantitative research on Chinese municipal governments tends to focus on the purportedly uniform, performance-based promotion incentives faced by top leaders—Party Secretaries and Mayors—effectively ignoring constraints from the complicated apparatus of municipal government and the possibility that they might exhibit personal policy preferences. This project takes a step backward to characterize the importance and nature of the top leadership in Chinese municipalities, with a particular focus on personnel management in municipal government agencies. Drawing on a dataset of party and government personnel from Fujian province, I show that, until about 2010, leaders of municipal bureaucracies were appointed and removed in a relatively stable pattern, and much of the time they were serving party secretaries or mayors who did not appoint them. Since 2010, however, personnel management has become less routinized, and as a result, agency leaders are increasingly serving under the top leadership who appointed them to their post.