The Political Pollution Cycle
Shen, S. V. (2022). The Political Regulation Wave: A Case of How Local Incentives Systematically Shape Air Quality in China. Cambridge University Press.
31 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2016 Last revised: 11 Apr 2022
Date Written: November 25, 2014
How do incentives shape political behavior? I show that local political leaders are incentivized to implement policies to varying degrees over time based on what they perceive to maximize the career payoffs for their efforts. Studying the critical case of air pollution control policies in China, I advance a theory of the political pollution cycle to fathom the effect of political incentives on local policy implementation over time. Using remote sensing, box modeling, observational data, and qualitative field research, I find that during 2000 and 2010, top prefectural leaders in China gradually ordered laxer regulation of pollution during their tenure so that the delivery of political achievements would bode well for their career advancement. Such an effect is stronger when the leaders did not have connections with their political superiors. Regulatory forbearance, rather than economic growth, explains the phenomenon, which unintentionally incurred tremendous human costs.
Keywords: comparative political economy, regulation, public policy, environmental governance, China
JEL Classification: N50, O44, P48
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