The Rise and Fall of Local Elections in China: Theory and Empirical Evidence on the Autocrat's Trade-Off

62 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017

See all articles by Monica Martinez-Bravo

Monica Martinez-Bravo

Centre for Monetary and Financial Studies (CEMFI)

Gerard Padró i Miquel

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Nancy Qian

Yale University - Department of Economics

Yang Yao

Peking University - China Center for Economic Research (CCER)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: November 2017

Abstract

We propose a simple informational theory to explain why autocratic regimes introduce local elections. Because citizens have better information on local officials than the distant central government, delegation of authority via local elections improves selection and performance of local officials. However, local officials under elections have no incentive to implement unpopular centrally mandated policies. The model makes several predictions: i) elections pose a trade-off between performance and vertical control; ii) elections improve the selection of officials; and iii) an increase in bureaucratic capacity reduces the desirability of elections for the autocrat. To test (i) and (ii), we collect a large village-level panel dataset from rural China. Consistent with the model, we find that elections improve (weaken) the implementation of popular (unpopular) policies, and improve official selection. We provide a large body of qualitative and descriptive evidence to support (iii). In doing so, we shed light on why the Chinese government has systematically undermined village governments twenty years after they were introduced.

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Suggested Citation

Martinez-Bravo, Monica and Padro i Miquel, Gerard and Qian, Nancy and Yao, Yang, The Rise and Fall of Local Elections in China: Theory and Empirical Evidence on the Autocrat's Trade-Off (November 2017). NBER Working Paper No. w24032. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3074210

Monica Martinez-Bravo

Centre for Monetary and Financial Studies (CEMFI) ( email )

Casado del Alisal 5
28014 Madrid
Spain

Gerard Padro i Miquel

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Nancy Qian

Yale University - Department of Economics ( email )

28 Hillhouse Ave
New Haven, CT 06520-8268
United States

Yang Yao (Contact Author)

Peking University - China Center for Economic Research (CCER) ( email )

Beijing, 100871
China

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