Voice and Exit as Accountability Mechanisms: Can Foot-Voting Be Made Safe for the Chinese Communist Party?

53 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2016 Last revised: 29 Jan 2019

See all articles by Roderick M. Hills, Jr.

Roderick M. Hills, Jr.

New York University School of Law

Shitong Qiao

Duke University School of Law; The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 2, 2016


According to Albert O. Hirschman’s famous dichotomy, citizens can express their preferences with their “voice” (by voting with ballots to elect better representatives) and “exit” (by voting with their feet to choose better places to live). Suppose, however, that ballot-voting is ineffective: Can exit not merely aid but also replace voice? Using as a case study the People’s Republic of China, a party state without elective democracy, we argue that exit is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, voice. China’s bureaucratic promotion system plays the role of local elections in the United States, promoting or replacing local officials based on their performance in office. In either regime, however, it is costly for local voters (in the United States) or the Chinese Communist Party (in China) to monitor and assess local officials. Attention to foot-voting in the legal design of local government can help reduce these costs. By evaluating cadres who run the lower levels of China’s local governments on the basis of how successfully they attract mobile households, the central CCP authorities could reduce the costs of monitoring these local officials and thereby reproduce, by bureaucratic means, some of the benefits of electoral democracy. Success in attracting foot-voters can be most cheaply measured by the Party’s evaluating cadres primarily on the basis of local land values which, because they are a product of foot-voters’ decisions about where to live, function like ballots insofar as they reflect the popularity of local cadres’ policy decisions with mobile Chinese households. For foot-voting to improve governmental accountability, however, the Chinese system of local government law requires some basic but politically feasible reforms ― in particular, the introduction of a local property tax system, the creation of a federated city system that grants power and autonomy to sub-city units, and the liberalization of China’s household registration system to make the population fully mobile across different jurisdictions.

Keywords: Inter-Jurisdictional Competition, Land Value, Democracy, Foot-Voting, Government Accountability, Property Tax, Federated City, Household Registration System (Hukou), Cadre Evaluation, Chinese Communist Party

JEL Classification: K11, H11, H23, H70, H41, R12, R14, R30

Suggested Citation

Hills, Roderick Maltman and Qiao, Shitong and Qiao, Shitong, Voice and Exit as Accountability Mechanisms: Can Foot-Voting Be Made Safe for the Chinese Communist Party? (August 2, 2016). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Forthcoming, University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2016/027, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2817652 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2817652

Roderick Maltman Hills (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

Shitong Qiao

Duke University School of Law ( email )

HOME PAGE: http://law.duke.edu/fac/qiao/

The University of Hong Kong - Faculty of Law ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Hong Kong

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.law.hku.hk/academic_staff/dr-shitong-qiao/

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