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Cultural Constraints and Policy Implementation: Effects of the Beijing License Plate Lottery on the Environment

Research co-authored by Professor Edmund Malesky is published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

Edmund Malesky, professor of political economy and director of the Duke Center for International Development, explores whether culture can constrain policy implementation in a new article published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

Malesky and co-author Amy H. Liu, University of Texas at Austin, tested to what extent traditional values of numerology in China impeded the environmental benefits of a well-designed license plate policy.

“We take advantage of two natural experiments in Beijing,” the authors wrote in "Cultural Constraints and Policy Implementation: Effects of the Beijing License Plate Lottery on the Environment." "First, in 2008 authorities began limiting cars on the road by restricting specific plate numbers each day. Second, in 2011 authorities introduced a lottery policy-making it difficult to obtain any plate."

The authors found: 1) non-traditionalists abandoned cultural norms, accepted non-lucky plate numbers, and switched to newer, greener vehicles, whereas (2) traditionalists — fearing the loss of their lucky plate numbers — held on to their older pollutant-emitting cars. They tested their argument using a CO readings dataset, a Beijing driver survey and a license plate image database.

"We find strong evidence that emissions were lower when lucky numbers were restricted, and the pattern strengthened gradually over time."