The Political Pollution Cycle
37 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2016 Last revised: 28 Apr 2019
Date Written: November 25, 2014
Building on the stylized fact that incentives shape political behavior, this paper shows that even after controlling for institutional factors and macro trends, local policy implementation in autocracies like China can change over time. Studying the critical case of air pollution control policies to fathom the effect of political incentives on local policy implementation over time, I advance a theory of what I call the “political pollution cycle.” I theorize that local leaders cater to the policy prioritization of the central leader and in the process foster systematic regional patterns of air quality over time. Using remote sensing, box modeling, observational data, and qualitative field research, I find that top prefectural leaders in China ordered laxer regulation of pollution towards the end of their tenure so that the delivery of social stability and economic achievements boded well for their career advancement. Such strategic implementation came unintentionally with tremendous human costs.
Keywords: policy implementation, environmental politics, China, regulatory politics, political cycles
JEL Classification: N50, O44, P48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation