Working papers

Reassessing the Quality of Government in China. 2016.  with Margaret Boittin and Francis Fukuyama

Coverage: Marginal Revolution

How should the quality of government be measured across disparate national contexts? This study develops a new approach using an original survey of Chinese civil servants and a comparison to the United States. We surveyed over 2,500 Chinese municipal officials on three organizational features of their bureaucracies: meritocracy, individual autonomy, and morale. They report greater meritocracy than U.S. federal employees in almost all American agencies. China's edge is smaller in autonomy and markedly smaller in morale. Differences between the U.S. and China lessen, but do not disappear, after adjusting for respondent demographics and excluding respondents most likely to be influenced by social desirability biases. Our findings contrast with numerous indices of good government that rank the U.S. far above China. They suggest that incorporating the opinions of political insiders into quality of government indices may challenge the foundations of a large body of cross-national governance research.

Does Compliance Pay?  Firm-level Trade and Social Institutions. 2016.  with Richard M. Locke.
Revise and resubmit.

How does international trade shape social institutions in the developing world? The research literature is conflicted: importing firms may demand their trading partners adhere to higher labor and environmental standards, or they may penalize higher standards that raise costs. This study offers the first large-scale analysis of how firm-level trade responds to information about social standards. Contrary to the “race to the bottom” hypothesis, it finds that importers reward exporters for complying with labor and environmental standards. In difference-in-differences estimates from over two thousand manufacturing establishments in 36 countries, achieving compliance is associated a 4% [1%, 7%] average increase in annual purchasing. The effect is robust to controlling for manufacturing performance and reflects both rewards for reaching compliance and penalties for falling out of compliance. The results suggest that activist campaigns and transnational private regulation have created economic incentives for higher social standards in certain trade relationships. 

Peer-reviewed publications

The Power of Empty Promises: Quasi-democratic Institutions and Activism in China. 2017. 
Comparative Political Studies
. 50(4): 464-498. pdf | SSRN

In authoritarian regimes, seemingly liberal reforms are often poorly implemented in practice. However, this study argues that even weak quasidemocratic institutions offer important resources to political activists. Formal institutions of participation serve as politically anodyne frames for activism, reducing the risk of repression. In addition, weak institutions produce institutional failures that fuel legal and media-based activist campaigns. Evidence comes from the effects of China’s 2008 Open Government Information reform. A national field audit finds that local governments satisfy just 14% of basic citizen requests for information. Yet case studies show how Chinese activists used the same institution to redress land disputes, historical grievances, government financial malfeasance, and threats to consumer rights. These findings highlight the importance of looking beyond policy implementation to understand the effects of authoritarian institutions on accountability

See also:
Making Chinese Officials Accountable, Blog by Blog. (with Diana Fu and Yue Hou) Boston Review. Sep. 27, 2016.

Constituency Service Under Nondemocratic Rule: Evidence from China. 2016. with Yue Hou.
Journal of Politics, Forthcoming. SSRN

Why do nondemocratic regimes provide constituency service? This study develops theory based on a national field audit of China's "Mayor's Mailbox," an institution that allows citizens to contact local political officials. Analyzing government responses to over twelve hundred realistic appeals from putative citizens, we find local service institutions in China are comparably responsive to similar institutions in democracies. Two key predictors of institutional quality are economic modernization and the intensity of local social conflict. We explain these findings by proposing a demand-driven theory of nondemocratic constituency service; in order to sustain the informational benefits of citizen participation, service institutions must increase responsiveness according to citizen demand. We then offer supplementary evidence for this theory by analyzing the content of real letters from citizens to local officials in China.

Does Lean Improve Labor Standards? Management and Social Performance in the Nike Supply Chain. 2016.  with Jens Hainmueller and Richard M. Locke.
Management Science. SSRN

See also:
Can Lean Manufacturing Put an End to Sweatshops? Harvard Business Review, Digital Article.
How to Improve Working Conditions in the Developing World Insights by Stanford Business

This study tests the hypothesis that lean manufacturing improves the social performance of manufacturers in emerging markets. We analyze an intervention by Nike Inc. to promote the adoption of lean manufacturing in its apparel supply chain across eleven developing countries. Using difference-in-differences estimates from a panel of over three hundred factories, we find that lean adoption was associated with a 15 percentage point reduction in noncompliance with labor standards that primarily reflect factory wage and work hour practices. However, we find a null effect on factory health and safety standards. This pattern is consistent with a causal mechanism that links lean to improved social performance through changes in labor relations, rather than improved management systems. These findings offer evidence that capability-building interventions may reduce social harm in global supply chains.

Production Goes Global, Compliance Stays Local: Private Regulation in the Global Electronics Industry. 2015. with Richard M. Locke, Timea Pal, and Hiram Samel.
Regulation & Governance 9(3): 224-242.  pdf | SSRN

Concerns about poor working conditions in global supply chains have led to private initiatives that seek to regulate labor practices in developing countries. But how effective are these regulatory programs?  We investigate the effects of transnational private regulation by studying Hewlett Packard’s (HP) supplier responsibility program.  Using analysis of factory audit records, interviews with buyer and supplier management, and field research at production facilities across seven countries, we find that national context—not repeated audits, capability building, or supply chain power—is the most important predictor of workplace compliance.  We then use field research to identify two local institutions that complement transnational private regulation: domestic regulatory authorities and civil society organizations.  Although these findings imply limits to private regulation in institutionally poor settings, they also highlight opportunities for productive linkages between transnational actors and local state and society.

Ingroup Bias in Official Behavior: A National Field Experiment in China.  2014. with Yue Hou.
Quarterly Journal of Political Science 9(2): 203-230.  pdf | SSRN

Do ingroup biases distort the behavior of public officials? Recent studies detect large ethnic biases in elite political behavior, but their case selection leaves open the possibility that bias obtains under relatively narrow historical and institutional conditions. We clarify these scope conditions by studying ingroup bias in the radically different political, historical, and ethnic environment of contemporary China. In a national field experiment, local officials were 33% less likely to provide assistance to citizens with ethnic Muslim names than to ethnically-unmarked peers. We find evidence consistent with the ingroup bias interpretation of this finding and detect little role for strategic incentives mediating this effect. This result demonstrates that neither legacies of institutionalized racism nor electoral politics are necessary to produce large ingroup biases in official behavior. It also suggests that ethnically motivated distortions to governance are more prevalent than previously documented.