Local policy discretion in social welfare: Explaining subnational variations in China's de facto urban poverty line

Yu GUO, Jingwei Alex HE, Fei WANG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

Abstract

How do subnational agents exercise policy discretion in the social welfare sphere? To what extent do they do so as a result of various bureaucratic and fiscal incentives? The literature has documented several explanatory frameworks in the context of China that predominantly focus on the realm of developmental policies. Owing to the salient characteristics of the social policy arena, local adaptation of centrally designed policies may operate on distinctive logics. This study synthesizes the recent scholarship on subnational social policymaking and explains the significant interregional disparities in China's de facto urban poverty line - the eligibility standard of the urban minimum livelihood guarantee scheme, or dibao. Five research hypotheses are formulated for empirical examination: fiscal power effect, population effect, fiscal dependency effect, province effect and neighbour effect. Quantitative analysis of provincial-level panel data largely endorses the hypotheses. The remarkable subnational variations in dibao standards are explained by a salient constellation of fiscal and political factors that are embedded within the country's complex intergovernmental relations and fiscal arrangements. Both a race-to-the-top and a race-to-the-bottom may be fostered by distinctive mechanisms. The unique role of provincial governments as intermediary agents within China's political apparatus is illuminated in the social policy arena.

在社會福利領域,地方政府如何行使政策自由裁量權?又會在多大程度上出於各種行政和財政激勵機制來行使裁量權?現有文獻探討了中國背景下的主要解釋框架,研究重點多聚焦於經濟發展領域。由於社會政策領域的固有特徵,地方政府可能遵循不同的邏輯對中央政策進行適配。本文基於地方社會政策制定的研究成果,解釋了中國的事實城市貧困線(城市最低生活保障標準)中所存在的重大地區差距。本研究通過省級面板資料的回歸分析,對五個研究假設進行了實證檢驗:財政能力效應、人口效應、財政依賴效應、省級政府效應和鄰省效應。研究發現,低保標準中的地方差異可以用一系列複雜的府際關係和財政安排中所體現的財政和政治邏輯來解釋。在低保標準的制定過程中,地方政府間既有逐底競爭,也存在逐頂競爭。本文著重闡明了省級政府作為中國政治體制的 “中間層” 在社會政策領域的獨特作用。 Copyright © 2021 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe China Quarterly
Early online dateDec 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Dec 2021

Citation

Guo, Y., He, A. J., & Wang, F. (2021). Local policy discretion in social welfare: Explaining subnational variations in China's de facto urban poverty line. The China Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1017/S0305741021001168

Keywords

  • Race to the top
  • Race to the bottom
  • Provincial government
  • Central–local relations
  • Dibao
  • Poverty line
  • 逐頂競爭
  • 逐底競爭
  • 省級政府
  • 央地關係
  • 最低生活保障
  • 貧困線

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