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The Distortionary Effects of Incentives in Government: Evidence from China's “Death Ceiling” Program


  • Raymond Fisman
  • Yongxiang Wang


We study a 2004 program designed to motivate Chinese bureaucrats to reduce accidental deaths. Each province received a set of ‘death ceilings’ that, if exceeded, would impede government officials' promotions. For each category of accidental deaths, we observe a sharp discontinuity in reported deaths at the ceiling, suggestive of manipulation. Provinces with safety incentives for municipal officials experienced larger declines in accidental deaths, suggesting complementarities between incentives at different levels of government. While realized accidental deaths predict the following year's ceiling, we observe no evidence that provinces manipulate deaths upward to avoid ratchet effects in the setting of death ceilings.

Suggested Citation

  • Raymond Fisman & Yongxiang Wang, 2017. "The Distortionary Effects of Incentives in Government: Evidence from China's “Death Ceiling” Program," NBER Working Papers 23098, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23098
    Note: DEV LE POL

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dilip Mookherjee, 2006. "Decentralization, Hierarchies, and Incentives: A Mechanism Design Perspective," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 44(2), pages 367-390, June.
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    3. Paul Oyer, 1998. "Fiscal Year Ends and Nonlinear Incentive Contracts: The Effect on Business Seasonality," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 149-185.
    4. Esther Duflo & Michael Greenstone & Nicholas Ryan, 2013. "Truth-telling by Third-party Auditors and the Response of Polluting Firms: Experimental Evidence from India," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(4), pages 1499-1545.
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    6. Dixit, Avinash, 1997. "Power of Incentives in Private versus Public Organizations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(2), pages 378-382, May.
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    8. McCrary, Justin, 2008. "Manipulation of the running variable in the regression discontinuity design: A density test," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 698-714, February.
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    1. Sam Watson’s journal round up for 10th April 2017
      by Sam Watson in The Academic Health Economists' Blog on 2017-04-10 15:00:00

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D73 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Bureaucracy; Administrative Processes in Public Organizations; Corruption
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare

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