Research / BFI Working PaperAug 29, 2023

Does the Squeaky Wheel Get More Grease? The Direct and Indirect Effects of Citizen Participation on Environmental Governance in China

Mark Buntaine, Michael Greenstone, Guojun He, Mengdi Liu, Shaoda Wang, Bing Zhang

We conducted a nationwide field experiment in China to evaluate the direct and indirect impacts of assigning firms to public or private citizen appeals when they violate pollution standards. There are three main findings. First, public appeals to the regulator through social media substantially reduce violations and pollution emissions, while private appeals cause more modest environmental improvements. Second, public appeals appear to tilt regulators’ focus away from facilitating economic growth and toward avoiding pollution-induced public unrest. Third, pollution reductions by treated firms are not offset by control firms, based on randomly varying the proportion of treatment firms at the prefecture-level. 

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