The Incentive to Innovate? The Behavior of Local Policymakers in China

Journal of Chinese Political Science 22(4): 505-517, 2017

13 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2017 Last revised: 19 Nov 2017

See all articles by Jessica Teets

Jessica Teets

Middlebury College

Reza Hasmath

University of Alberta - Department of Political Science

Orion Lewis

Middlebury College

Date Written: 2017

Abstract

Despite playing a key contributing role in China’s economic reforms and the Party’s regime durability, there has been a noted reduction in local policy experimentation. Using semi-structured interviews with policymakers in Beijing, Zhejiang and Shenzhen, we find that although recentralization efforts at the central-level are impacting local officials, a great deal of variation in policy experimentation outcomes still exists. Thus, the puzzle motivating this study is how do local officials react to these institutional changes to decide whether or not to engage in local policy innovation? Our study offers three potential explanations for why local officials vary in their willingness to continue policy experimentation: (1) the ineffectiveness of the vertical reward and punishment systems operated by the Party-state; (2) differing base preferences of local officials; and, (3) the presence of a cohort effect. These factors “filter” institutional changes to result in variation at the local level. As such, we find strong support for an evolutionary process predicated on individual preferences interacting with institutional incentives such as the evaluation system and the networked-structure of cadre knowledge. Although some officials are still conducting policy experimentation, the overall reduction in innovation strongly suggests that potential solutions to governance problems remain trapped at the local level, and that the central government might lose this “adaptable” governance mechanism that has contributed to its past economic and political successes.

Keywords: Policy, Innovation, Experimentation, Policymakers, Subnational, China

Suggested Citation

Teets, Jessica and Hasmath, Reza and Lewis, Orion, The Incentive to Innovate? The Behavior of Local Policymakers in China (2017). Journal of Chinese Political Science 22(4): 505-517, 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2978864

Jessica Teets

Middlebury College ( email )

Middlebury, VT 05753
United States

Reza Hasmath (Contact Author)

University of Alberta - Department of Political Science ( email )

10-16 Henry Marshall Tory Building
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H4
Canada

Orion Lewis

Middlebury College ( email )

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