Objectives and Methods to be Employed: The purpose of this project is to assemble data on the economic and political history of rural China since the early 1980s. In 1987, an Organic Law on Village Committees was approved, which included several institutional reforms, the most important of which was the introduction of democratic village elections. Gradually put into effect during the 1980s and 1990s, these reforms and their implementation provide an unprecedented setting for the study of political and economic reforms. The Research Center of Rural Economics (RCRE) in China has been conducting yearly economic surveys on over 300 randomly selected villages across rural China. For this project, the China Center for Economic Research (CCER), in collaboration with the RCRE, will conduct a survey on the history of political reforms of these villages, and match the survey data to existing panel data that is not generally available for public use. As a consequence, a comprehensive new dataset with a panel structure stretching across two decades will be created. This unique dataset will address several research topics. This proposal highlights two: 1) the impact of increased accountability on economic performance; and, 2) a study to identify the social, economic and political circumstances that are conducive to the adoption of elections. Intellectual merit of the proposed activity: The two-way relationship between economic and institutional development is one of the most fundamental topics in political economy and comparative politics. Most previous studies use cross-country comparisons. This is problematic, because democratizations typically involve many simultaneous institutional changes and often occur amidst economic and political turmoil. As a consequence, estimates of the effects of democratization from these settings are typically confounded by the influences of other factors. The controlled environment of China?s dramatic rural reforms provides an unprecedented opportunity to estimate the causal effect of introducing elections in an environment where democracy did not previously exist; and separately identify the effects of different dimensions of democracy. At the local level, the results from this study will shed light on the effect of local democracy on public goods provision which will be relevant for poverty alleviation and development beyond the Chinese context. At a broader level, applying results from this study to other contexts must be done with caution. However, China?s experience in gradual democratization and economic growth should interest those who study political and economic transitions, especially those who wish to find contrasting examples for other post-communist countries. The results from China can also potentially shed light on the role that grass-roots level democratic elections can play in non-democratic societies more generally, an observed phenomenon that has not been rigorously documented or studied quantitatively on a broad scale. Broader impacts resulting from the proposed activity: Several aspects of this project fall under the broader impact criteria defined by the NSF. This project bridges the fields of political science and economics. It forges partnerships between academic institutions in the U.S., an academic institution in Europe, and academic and government institutions in China, a country that has historically been closed to non-Chinese researchers. These partnerships will prove invaluable for future data collection. Data collection and analysis for this project will provide opportunities to support and train research assistants at Brown University, the NBER, and Peking University. In addition to being of scientific interest, the results will be extremely relevant for policy makers at organizations such as the World Bank and the UNDP who are interested in implementing electoral reforms and institutional development in non-democratic countries. Finally, an important by-product of this project is a new dataset that can be used for a variety of other studies of comparative politics, development economics and political economy. Currently, there is no large scope data on the history of political reforms in rural China. In addition to electoral reforms, the survey will also contain questions regarding changes in other policies that need to be controlled for in the statistical analysis and will give rise to future projects

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Georgia Kosmopoulou
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National Bureau of Economic Research Inc
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