Street-Level Responsiveness of City Governments in China, Germany, and the United States

This paper presents evidence from parallel field experiments in China, Germany, and the United States. We contacted the mayor’s office in over 6,000 cities asking for information about procedures for starting a new business. Chinese and German cities responded to 36-37 percent requests; American cities responded to only 22 percent of requests. We randomly varied the text of the request to identify factors that affect the likelihood of receiving a response. American and German cities were more responsive to requests from citizens than foreigners; Chinese cities did not discriminate on this basis. Chinese cities were more responsive to requests from men than women; German cities did not discriminate on this basis and American cities had a slight bias in favor of women. Cities in all three countries were more responsive to requests associated with starting a construction business than a green business, but especially Chinese cities. Chinese cities were more responsive when the mayor was being considered for promotion than after a promotion decision, suggesting the importance of promotion incentives in China, but low responsiveness to green investment suggests limited incentives for environmental improvement. We argue that the response patterns are consistent with simple political economy theories of democracy and autocracy.

That is by Ekkehard A. Köhler, John G. Matsusaka, and Yanhui Wu.  Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.