AcademicsWorking Papers

Dams and Intergovernmental Transfer: Balancing Local Interests in China
Xiaojia Bao
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Large-scale dams are controversial public infrastructure projects due to the unevenly distributed benefits and losses to local regions. The central government can make redistributive fiscal transfers to attenuate the impacts and reduce the inequality among local governments, but whether large-scale dam projects are Pareto improving is still a question. Using the geographic variation of dam impacts based on distances to the river and distances to dams, this paper adopts a difference-in-difference approach to estimate dam impacts at county level in China from 1996 to 2010. I find that a large-scale dam reduces local revenue in upstream counties significantly by 16%, while increasing local revenue by similar magnitude in dam-site counties. The negative revenue impacts in upstream counties are mitigated by intergovernmental transfers from the central government, with an increase rate around 13% during the dam construction and operation periods. No significant revenue and transfer impacts are found in downstream counties, except counties far downstream. These results suggest that dam-site counties benefit from dam projects the most, and intergovernmental transfers help to balance the negative impacts of dams in upstream counties correspondingly, making large-scale dam projects close to Pareto improving outcomes in China.
JEL-Codes: H77;R12;H54
Keywords: Large-scale Dams, Distributive Impacts, Intergovernmental Transfers, China

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