Arnold Kling  

Tyranny Without Law Enforcement?

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Bradford Plumer writes,

Finamore points out, for instance, that if China enforced all the building codes it has on the books, it could cut its energy use dramatically. NRDC is training Chinese building inspectors, who often don't understand the codes, and helping set up independent certifiers to act as watchdogs. But too many international green groups, Wen notes, avoid this hands-on approach, instead staying in Beijing, writing papers and trying to influence national policy. Nor have governments really stepped in on a local level, either.

Plumer writes as if this problem is specific to energy and environmental issues. However, I have seen it suggested that China needs help enforcing other forms of regulation as well, such as financial reporting. By joining the WTO, China was able to "outsource" some its governmental functions.

I can see how a government could find itself with internal constituents that block enforcement of regulations, and that as a result the government could turn to outside institutions for help. But it's weird to think of this happening in China. Somehow, the weak central government of China seems like it ought to be an oxymoron.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
nocountry writes:

The central government of China has serious issues enforcing its will on local governments, and always has. This is a widely acknowledged fact - in fact there is a saying from the past that "the mountains are high and the emperor is far away".

There is nothing contradictory or oxymoronic here - private citizens in China have little recourse against mistreatment by government at any level, but the central government requires cooperation of local officials to enforce its will in the provinces. An autocratic government is not the same thing as an omnipotent (or even competent) government.

8 writes:

Local government officials openly flout central government regulations. They routinely ignored banking regulations, for instance making loans for stock investment, although those were recently curbed. There was a case a few years ago of a gigantic steel mill under contruction which would have equaled the output of all U.S. mills combined, but the central government stopped it. This article discusses similar cases.

Matt writes:

"..weird to think of this happening in China. Somehow, the weak central government of China seems like it ought to be an oxymoron.."

A little reading of China history should dispel this notion. China's problem has always been too much local control.

K. Larson writes:

The mountains are tall and the Emperor is far away runs the old Chinese saying. The Chinese system, by fairly ancient tradition, is a sort of Matrioshka Fiefdom, a government set up like a string of Christmas-tree-lights. The Center issues broad directives that are handed to more localized officials who issue more specifics to their subordinates in accordance with their own judgment. There aren't really any normal, parallel reporting or accountability systems in place- as long as the guy above you has 'got your back,' you can operate with relative impunity.

And incidentally, it's NDRC, not "NRDC".

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