Government extraction and firm size: Local officials’ responses to fiscal distress in China

YU LIU

JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE ECONOMICS

Abstract: This paper studies how government extraction behaviors respond to local fiscal distress in China. We exploit the 2002 Chinese Income Tax Reform which exogenously cut local government revenues from income taxes roughly by half. We find that, when facing fiscal distress, local officials resort to informal taxes, such as fees and levies, instead of formal taxes to supplement revenue. On average, the increase in informal taxes recovered 75 percent of the local government revenue loss due to the reform. The increases are more pronounced along the intensive margin and are primarily driven by more extractions from large firms. We also find that the reform led to reductions in investment and growth rates of small firms and consistently more small firms in the total size distribution.