“Authoritarian Delegation to Single-minded Agents: Limitations of Political Control in Managing Policy Tradeoffs” by Hongshen Zhu
January 5 @ 9:00 am – 10:00 am JST
Author: Hongshen Zhu (Duke)
Abstract: Applying difference-in-difference estimations on daily mobility data during China’s COVID-19 epidemic and an original poverty elimination campaign dataset, this paper examines local officials’ decision-making in a high frequency and high salience setting. The ruling Communist Party center decentralized lockdown decision-making to hold local officials accountable to pandemic control results and leave flexibility for other objectives. My empirical analyses show that officials prefer the single task of pandemic control and used it as an excuse to avoid other evaluation metrics. Most officials were non-responsive to the center’s call for reopening. Only a subset of officials, who are subject to the poverty elimination target backed by credible punishment, were highly responsive to the center and imposed fewer lockdowns in response to local outbreaks. After achieving the poverty elimination target, officials reimposed lockdowns, despite the center’s call for policy continuity. The findings imply that in a political environment intolerant to failures, decentralization can lead to more risk aversion instead of policy innovations.