Frightened Mandarins: The Adverse Effects of Fighting Corruption on Local Bureaucracy

Forthcoming, Comparative Political Studies

94 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2019 Last revised: 16 Oct 2021

See all articles by Erik H. Wang

Erik H. Wang

Australian National University (ANU) - Department of Political and Social Change

Date Written: October 2, 2021

Abstract

Canonical theories of bureaucracy demonstrate the need for enhanced monitoring in government hierarchies. I argue that intensive top-down monitoring may reduce the productivity of bureaucrats by frightening them away from the informal practices that they would otherwise rely on when completing daily tasks. Utilizing a unique dataset of sub-provincial inspections in China's recent anti-corruption campaign, I identify this ``chilling effect'' by exploiting variation in the timing of inspections from 2012 to 2017. I show that these anti-corruption activities lower the area of land development projects proposed by bureaucrats. Causal mediation analyses with investigation data and original measures of corruption potential reveal that these effects are unlikely driven by reduction of actual corruption. Extension analyses suggest similar consequences on revenue collection and environmental regulation. Although scholars of state-building equate low corruption with effective bureaucracy, these findings present a paradox where intensive state-led efforts to lower corruption may further undermine bureaucrats' productivity.

Keywords: corruption, anti-corruption campaign, bureaucracy, pollution, state capacity, China, political economy of development

Suggested Citation

Wang, Erik H., Frightened Mandarins: The Adverse Effects of Fighting Corruption on Local Bureaucracy (October 2, 2021). Forthcoming, Comparative Political Studies, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3314508 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3314508

Erik H. Wang (Contact Author)

Australian National University (ANU) - Department of Political and Social Change ( email )

Hedley Bull Building
130 Garran Road
ACTON, ACT ACT 2601
Australia

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