Radical Target Setting and China’s Great Famine
51 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2017 Last revised: 7 Jan 2021
Date Written: May 18, 2019
This paper empirically examines the role of radical targets for grain yields in triggering China’s Great Famine (1959-61), one of the largest man-made catastrophes in human history. Beginning in 1958, the Chinese central government assigned different targets for grain yields in most counties, based on their geographic location. All targets seemed unrealistically high. Using novel county-level data, combined with a spatial regression discontinuity strategy, we find evidence that these radical grain targets prompted excessive procurement and subsequent famine. Our estimates show that a one-standard-deviation increase in grain yield targets led to an 18‰ higher death rate in 1960. This paper sheds new light on the consequences of target-setting in an authoritarian regime without considering local contexts.
Keywords: Performance Target, China’s Great Famine, Spatial Regression Discontinuity
JEL Classification: O21, N45, P26
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation