Decremental budgeting in an incremental era: a study of the central-provincial budgetary relationship in the People's Republic of China after 1978




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Texas Tech University


The Caiden and Wildavsky work of 1974 postulates a model of poverty-uncertainty: the governments of poor countries face disappearing and decremental budgets in financing public programs because of a lack of economic growth or poverty. The core argument is that economic development, as a critical variable, determines increments in budgeting practices. In other words, budgeting is incremental, and incremental budgeting results from the growth of GNP. This model has since become a set of principles with identifiable attributes to explain the budgetary processes in poor nations.

This study is about application of that model in China's budgeting. China has a unitary budget system. The central government used to draw most of its revenues from provinces and its budget includes those of 31 provinces. Provinces thus play a dual role of collecting revenues from within and remitting them to the center in the name of revenue sharing. In 1978 China decided to open to the world, reform its economy, and decentralize budget to provinces. But the original intent of decentralization was to give incentives so that provinces accumulate more resources for further central extraction. The decentralization, however, has led to fiscal decline not anticipated by the reformers.