Factions, Local Accountability, and Long-Term Development: County-Level Evidence from a Chinese Province
(with Linke Hou, Mingxing Liu, Colin Lixin Xu and Pengfei Zhang), May 2019.
We investigate, both theoretically and empirically, the role of factional competition and local accountability in explaining the enormous but puzzling county-level variations in development performance in Fujian Province in China. When the Communist armies took over Fujian Province from the Nationalist control circa 1949, communist cadres from two different army factions were assigned as county leaders. For decades the Fujian Provincial Standing Committee of the Communist Party was dominated by members from one particular faction, which we refer to as the strong faction. Counties also differed in terms of whether a local guerrilla presence had existed prior to the Communist takeover. We argue that county leaders from the strong faction were less likely to pursue policies friendly to local development because their political survival more heavily relied on their loyalty to the provincial leader than on the grassroots support from local residents. By contrast, the political survival of county leaders from the weak faction largely depended on local grassroots support, which they could best secure if they focused on local development. In addition, a guerrilla presence in a county further improved development performance either by intensifying the local accountability of the county leader, or by better facilitating the provision of local public goods beneficial to development. We find consistent and robust evidence supporting these assumptions. Being affiliated with weak factions and having local accountability are both associated with sizable long-term benefits that are evident in terms of a county’s growth and level of private-sector development, its citizens’ education levels, and their survival rates during the Great Chinese Famine. We also find that being affiliated with the strong faction and adopting pro-local policies are associated with higher likelihood of a local leader’s political survival. Our results suggest that competition between political factions contributes to efficiency in non-democratic countries, and that local accountability is a key ingredient for balanced development.