Commentary: Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Political Economic Take on Campaign‐Style Enforcement

Published date01 January 2015
Date01 January 2015
Tucker Van Aken was a 2012–13
Fulbright Fellow based in Chongqing,
China, where he researched f‌i rm–state
relations and local Energy Conservation and
Emissions Reduction policy implementa-
tion. He is currently an analyst at Albright
Stonebridge Group, a commercial diplomacy
f‌i rm, where he assists multinationals and
nonprof‌i ts in formulating and implementing
their China strategies.
96 Public Administration Review • January | February 2015
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 75, Iss. 1, pp. 96–97. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12304.
for challenges such as lack of funding, economic
hardship, or regional employment concerns. Despite
a highly professional, authoritative, and dedicated
auditing group, this subjective “negotiated grading”
allows for the continued divergence of economic and
environmental goals in some districts. While of‌f‌i cials
and managers in Chongqing exhibit many of the
same cognitive behaviors the authors report—namely,
they follow Beijing’s lead—a more nuanced picture
emerges when one examines audit reports and data
more closely.
A major gap in this article is that it does not examine
the exact mechanisms by which top-level policy priori-
ties direct local-level behavior, the most important of
which are yearly performance targets and cadre evalu-
ations that grade each f‌i rm, cadre, and level of govern-
ment.  e central government sets and adjusts highly
detailed grading tables, which establish yearly goals and
act as a “baton” to direct cadre and f‌i rm-level behavior,
an important part of the campaign. Success in meeting
these targets, graded out of 100, determines bonuses,
awards, promotions, and potential punishments.
Targets are ranked by priority: at the top are “priority
targets with veto power” that must be met, followed
by “hard targets” and “ordinary targets.” Performance
on hard targets, such as economic development and,
very recently, environmental performance, is critical to
cadres’ career advancement (Ong 2012). Local of‌f‌i cials
and managers often cite the importance of perform-
ance targets, which have been tightened further in the
12th Five-Year Plan, in shaping behavior and ECER
implementation (Van Aken 2013).
e authors’ approach also does not suf‌f‌i ciently
explain regional variation in performance, although
local “triggers” are a cause in a limited number of
cases. Importantly, while ECER policy implementa-
tion was remarkably successful across provinces during
the 11th Five-Year Plan, there was wide variation
in how successful. In a forthcoming article, Orion
Lewis and I use regression analysis and provincial
case studies to show that regional variation in ECER
The theoretical framework of the article
“Campaign-Style Enforcement and
Regulatory Compliance” by Nicole Ning
Liu, Carlos Wing-Hang Lo, Xueyong Zhan, and Wei
Wang helpfully describes how campaign-style enforce-
ment can change cadre-level behavior in Chinese
environmental policy implementation. It is certainly
true that increasing the resources available to achieve
energy conservation and emissions reduction (ECER)
goals and the punishments for failure does change
cadres’ “personal risk analysis.
However, f‌i ndings from my own research, as well as
on-the-ground experience assisting companies and
nonprof‌i ts af‌f ected by such regulations, suggest that
the authors overstate the impact of this cognitive
change on the actual behavior of cadres (government
of‌f‌i cials) and business managers. Most critically, the
article is reliant on the self-interested reporting of the
individuals charged with implementation, whom I
have found continue to demonstrate just the sort of
“decoupled” behavior the authors assert has changed,
namely, that actions do not match words.
e case of Chongqing, a relatively strong per-
former compared to other provinces, is illustrative.
During two years of studies conducted primarily in
Chongqing—but also Beijing and Xi’an—I collected
public data on industrial and district-level perform-
ance in achieving energy conservation goals. I also
participated in performance audits with local of‌f‌i cials.
In the f‌i ve-year period that began in 2007, when the
Chongqing government began publicizing evaluations
of district-level governments’ energy savings perform-
ance, no district received an “incomplete” rating (the
equivalent of a “failing” grade). However, data released
by the municipal government show that on at least
17 occasions over that time period, districts could
have been given an incomplete grade. Government
of‌f‌i cials argue that a number of factors could explain
this phenomenon, from improper data collection to
“reasonable” ad hoc grading adjustments to account
Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Political Economic
Take on Campaign-Style Enforcement
Tucker Van Aken
Albright Stonebridge Group

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