A Screening Perspective on Experimental Zones

21 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2022 Last revised: 17 Nov 2022

See all articles by Chen Cheng

Chen Cheng

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School

Yiqing Xing

Peking University - National School of Development

Date Written: September 1, 2022


Experimentation, or, setting experimental zones, is essential to many countries’ economic success, especially China. Traditional explanations suggest that setting experimental zones is for loss-control or resistance-minimization. In this paper, we provide an alternative rationale that emphasizes the “screening effect” of experimental zones: when proposals—whose qualities are unknown to the central government (principal)—are proposed by informed local officials (agents), providing support gradually over time rather than all at once reduces the local governments’ incentives to propose low-quality projects, resulting in a higher proportion of high-quality projects in equilibrium. The main tradeoff facing the central government is between better screening and delayed implementation of good projects. We show that when the central government is more patient, or good projects exhibit a larger positive externality, the reform speed, measured by the initial support level, decreases while the reform scale, measured by the number of approved projects, increases. As the negative consequence of bad projects becomes higher, however, both reform speed and scale decrease, implying a steady but stagnant reform. By contrast, in a benchmark case without information asymmetry between the central and local governments, the optimal initial support is either minimal or full and does not depend on the externality.

Keywords: Experimental zones, Gradual reform, Asymmetric information, Screening, Limited liability, Decentralization

JEL Classification: D72, D78, D80, P26

Suggested Citation

Cheng, Chen and Xing, Yiqing, A Screening Perspective on Experimental Zones (September 1, 2022). China Economic Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4070464 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4070464

Chen Cheng

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School ( email )

100 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

Yiqing Xing (Contact Author)

Peking University - National School of Development ( email )

Beijing, 100871

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