Yu Xiao (肖宇) received her PhD in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Her research focuses on comparative political economy in China and Latin America and China-Latin American Relations.

ORCID profile

Dissertation Research

My dissertation (Why Do Autocrats Decentralize?) studies why some autocracies pursue economic decentralization policies while others do not. What political conditions facilitate or inhibit economic decentralization in autocracies? Studies that focus on democracies have largely reach a consensus that politically decentralized systems tend to pursue economic decentralization policies. I contend, however, that there is an opposite relationship in autocracies. Specifically, it is the politically centralized autocracies that are more likely to pursue economic decentralization policies. I argue that this cross-regime difference is because in autocracies, economic decentralization policies often result from a top-down delegation process, as opposed to a bottom-up bargaining process that often prevails in democracies.

My dissertation develops a game-theoretical model to analyze the top-down economic decentralization process in autocracies. I demonstrate that political centralization can make the subnational government more willing to follow the national economic agenda and consequently make the national government more willing to decentralize economic resources. I test the theoretical model with a comparative case study of China from 1949 to 1962 and Mexico from 1917 to 1948. The Chinese case confirms that its centralized political system in the 1950s contributed to the economic decentralization policies during the Great Leap Forward. The Mexican case corroborates that its decentralized political system in the 1920s contributed to the Mexican federal government’s consistent efforts to centralize economic resources at the federal level from the 1920s to the 1940s. A further test analyzes a sample of 59 countries from 1972 to 2016. The results support that political centralization reduces economic decentralization in democracies but facilitates economic decentralization in autocracies. My dissertation contributes to our understanding of the different patterns of economic decentralization and economic governance between democracies and autocracies.

Full text is available here.


Email: yux10 at pitt.edu