My current research focuses on the politics of information and political repression in autocracies with a particular interest in digital surveillance. My other ongoing projects study the political economy of institutions and development. My work exploits a range of research designs and data sources including survey and natural experiments, archival research, and intensive fieldwork in China.
Xu, Xu. Forthcoming. “To Repress or To Co-opt? Authoritarian Control in the Age of Digital Surveillance.” American Journal of Political Science. Link, Appendix
This paper studies the consequences of digital surveillance in dictatorships. I first
develop an informational theory of repression and co-optation. I argue that digital
surveillance resolves dictators’ information problem of not knowing individual citizens’ true anti-regime sentiments. By identifying radical opponents, digital surveillance enables dictators to substitute targeted repression for non-exclusive co-optation
to forestall coordinated uprisings. My theory implies that as digital surveillance technologies advance, we should observe a rise in targeted repression and a decline in universal redistribution. Using a difference-in-differences design that exploits temporal
variation in digital surveillance systems among Chinese counties, I find that surveillance increases local governments’ public security expenditure and arrests of political activists but decreases public goods provision. My theory and evidence suggest that
improvements in governments’ information make citizens worse off in dictatorships.
Frantz, Erica, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Joseph Wright, and Xu Xu. Forthcoming. “Personalization of Power and Repression in Dictatorships.” Journal of Politics. Pre-print, Appendix, Reproduction Files
This article uses new data measuring gradations of personalism in authoritarian regimes to
evaluate the relationship between concentration of power and patterns of repression. It shows
that the personalization of power in dictatorships leads to an increase in repression. Given the
rise in personalism we are witnessing globally, the findings of this study imply that repression
is likely to become more prevalent in dictatorships as a consequence.
Xu, Xu and Xin Jin. 2018. “The Autocratic Roots of Social Distrust.” Journal of Comparative Economics. 46.1: 362-380. Pre-print
This paper presents evidence that autocratic culture adversely affects
social trust and political participation. We find that individuals whose ancestors
migrated from countries with higher autocracy levels are less likely to trust others
and to vote in presidential elections in the U.S. The impact of autocratic culture
on trust can last for at least three generations while the impact on voting
disappears after one generation. These impacts on trust and voting are also
significant across Europe. We further access the robustness of our findings
concerning selection into migration and other confounders such as home
countries’ economic conditions, human capital stocks, and the strength of family
Cao, Xun, Genia Kostka, and Xu Xu. 2019. “Environmental Political Business Cycles: The Case of PM2.5 Air Pollution in Chinese Cities.” Environmental Science and Policy. 93: 92-100. Pre-print, Appendix, Slides(2015 APSA)
Chinese local leaders’ behaviors are driven by a career incentive structure in
which those delivering better performances are more likely to be promoted. Local leaders
signal competence when their superiors actively collect evidence to evaluate their
performances: these are years leading to the end of a five-year term. To create better
economic performances, local leaders lessen the enforcement of environmental regulations to
reduce local industries’ production costs and/or to attract firms from other jurisdictions. Such
selective enforcement creates an environmental political business cycle in which pollution
increases in years leading to the year of leader turnover. The empirical analysis on a panel of
Chinese prefectures of 2002-2010 reveals a U-shaped relationship between a prefecture’s
party secretary’s years in office and its average annual PM2.5 level.
Chen, Zhiyuan, Xin Jin, and Xu Xu. “Is Cracking Down on Corruption Really Good for the Economy? Firm-level Evidence from A Natural Experiment in China.” Link
Countries all around the world take serious measures to crack down on corruption in the hope that reducing corruption would promote economic growth. This paper investigates the negative consequences of anti-corruption measures on economic outcomes. By exploiting an unexpected corruption crackdown in Northeast China in 2004, we find that the crackdown significantly lowers firm productivity and reduces firm entry. The negative impacts are mainly borne by private and foreign firms while the state-owned firms are intact. We further find that private firms with personal connections to the government fare worse than the state-owned firms, while unconnected private firms do not perform differently from the state-owned firms after the crackdown. Our findings suggest that cracking down on corruption may weaken some connected private firms’ political ties and remove the “grease of the wheels” that supports firm development in weak market institutions.
Jin, Xin and Xu Xu. “Incentivizing Corruption: The Unintended Consequence of Bureaucratic Promotions in China.” Link.
Conventional wisdom holds that in non-democracies, a strong central state can reward
and punish local administrations through a merit-based promotion system, which
should restrain corruption. But much evidence shows that rampant corruption coexists
with powerful central governments. This study resolves this puzzle by incorporating
bribes in a tournament model. Our model predicts that when bribes are more important
than performance in superiors’ total gain, or if there is a lack of serious punishments
for wrong-doing, or an increase in promotion gain, promotion can incentivize corruption.
Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity design exploiting exogenous variations in
officials’ likelihood of promotion from a mandatory age cutoff for bureaucratic promotion
in China, combined with a unique biographical database of prefecture party secretaries
and novel measures of corruption, we find that promotions encourage corruption
in China. Moreover, prefecture party secretaries are more corrupt if their provincial
superiors are connected to central factions, suggesting that upper-level factionalism is
one of the disincentives that breaks down lower-level meritocracy.
Xu, Xu. “The Social Impact of State Surveillance: Informers vs. Computers.” Link
This paper examines the social costs of digital surveillance versus in-person surveillance. I argue that both types of surveillance deter civic participation because citizens fear targeted repression. However, digital surveillance does not entail human-agent intrusion into private lives, and therefore is less likely to lower interpersonal trust and regime legitimacy. I find consistent evidence using a survey experiment with over 500 students in two universities in North and West China. The external validity of the experimental findings is established using the Chinese General Social Survey and an interrupted time-series design that exploits an exogenous shock to the intensity of digital surveillance and repression caused by the 2015 Tianjin Explosions in China.
Work in Progress
Xu, Xu. “Propaganda and Public Support for State Surveillance: Evidence from Social Credit Systems in China.”
Chen, Ted, Christopher Fariss, and Xu Xu. “The Effect of Disaster-induced Displacement on Social and Political Behavior: The Case of Hurricane Harvey.”
Jin, Xin and Xu Xu. “Terrorist Attacks and Immigrants’ Labor Market Outcome.”
Von Schrader, Sarah, Xu Xu, and Susanne M. Bruyere. 2014. “Accommodation Requests: Who Is Asking for What?” Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education. 28.4: 329-344.