First in Command: Leaders, Political Institutions, and Economic Growth in China's Counties
Bulman, David Janoff
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In the mid-1990s, counties in China’s Anhui Province and the central and northern regions of Jiangsu Province had similar levels of development. Over the next two decades the Jiangsu counties grew much faster, becoming on average twice as rich as the Anhui counties. This dissertation develops a causal narrative explaining part of the regional variation in county outcomes by looking at the relationship between local leader economic roles, governance, and promotion incentives in an upwardly accountable political system. Relying on six in-depth county case studies as well as broader quantitative analyses, the dissertation seeks to answer three interrelated questions: What explains variation in China’s county-level economic outcomes? What is the role of County Party Secretaries in determining local growth outcomes? Why do County Party Secretaries emphasize particular developmental priorities? By selecting six counties that face each other across the Anhui/Jiangsu border, the study largely eliminates geographic, historical, and cultural explanations, focusing instead on divergent provincial institutions and policies. These mixed method approaches demonstrate the important economic roles played by County Party Secretaries in shaping the quality of local governance and the ability of counties to attract investment. Although this leadership role and the governance-growth relationship hold across provinces, the political promotion incentives given to county leaders vary. In Jiangsu, county leaders are promoted based on economic growth outcomes; these leaders have translated their personal promotion incentives into bolder and more creative local development ideas as well as stricter control over local cadres, all in an effort to improve local investment environments. In Anhui, authorities have been more concerned with maintaining social stability, leading to less courageous and less innovative local approaches to governance and economic policy. Largely as a result of these contrasting provincial emphases, counties in Jiangsu have vastly outperformed their Anhui counterparts since the mid-1990s. These conclusions have important implications for the study of central-local relations in China and for the analysis of upwardly accountable political systems more broadly.