NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

NBER Working Papers by Wei Li

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Working Papers

January 2011Provincial and Local Governments in China: Fiscal Institutions and Government Behavior
with Roger H. Gordon: w16694
What are the incentives faced by local officials in China? Without democratic institutions, there is no mechanism for local residents to exercise “voice”. Given the hukou registration system, local residents have little opportunity to threaten “exit” if they are unhappy with local taxes and spending. This paper explores an alternative source of incentives, starting from the premise that local officials aim to maximize the jurisdiction’s fiscal residual (profits), equal to local tax revenue minus expenditures on public services. In a Tiebout setting with mobile households, this objective should lead to efficient provision. What happens, though, if firms and economic activity but not people are mobile? The paper examines the incentives faced by local Chinese officials in this context...
October 2005Puzzling Tax Structures in Developing Countries: A Comparison of Two Alternative Explanations
with Roger Gordon: w11661
Observed economic policies in developing countries differ sharply both from those observed among developed countries and from those forecast by existing models of optimal policies. For example, developing countries rely little on broad-based taxes, and make substantial use of tariffs and seignorage as nontax sources of revenue. The objective of this paper is to contrast the implications of two models designed to explain such anomalous policies. One approach, by Gordon-Li (2005), focuses on the greater difficulties faced in poor countries in monitoring taxable activity, and explores the best available policies given such difficulties. The other, building on Grossman-Helpman (1994), presumes that political-economy problems in developing countries are worse, leading to worse policy choices. ...
April 2005Tax Structure in Developing Countries: Many Puzzles and a Possible Explanation
with Roger Gordon: w11267
Tax policies seen in developing countries are puzzling on many dimensions. To begin with, revenue/GDP is surprisingly small compared with that in developed economies. Taxes on labor income play a minor role. Taxes on consumption are important, but effective tax rates vary dramatically by firm, with many firms avoiding taxes entirely by operating through cash in the informal economy and others facing very high liabilities. Taxes on capital are an important source of revenue, as are tariffs and seignorage, all contrary to the theoretical literature. In this paper, we argue that all of these aspects of policy may be sensible responses if a government is able in practice to collect taxes only from those firms that make use of the financial sector. Through use of the financial sector, firms ge...
May 1999Government as a Discriminating Monopolist in the Financial Market: The Case of China
with Roger H. Gordon: w7110
To date, China has maintained a variety of restrictions on its financial markets. In addition to imposing capital controls and regulating interest rates, the government controls both the set of firms that can sell equity on the domestic or foreign stock markets, and the amount they can sell. China is unique in that foreigners pay much less than domestic investors for intrinsically identical shares. In this paper, we show that these characteristics of the Chinese financial market are consistent with a government choosing regulations to maximize a standard type of social welfare function. The observed policy of charging much higher prices for equity sold to domestic than to foreign investors can simply reflect the more inelastic demand for equity by domestic investors. Under certain condi...

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