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

Talk Abstract:

Despite playing a key contributory role in China’s recent economic reforms and the Party’s regime durability, there has been a noted reduction in central-level policy experimentation under Xi Jinping’s administration. Recent studies have further noted an empirical reduction in policy innovation at the subnational level, and question whether local officials will continue to experiment in the foreseeable future.

This talk suggests that although these changes at the central-level are filtering down to local officials, a great deal of variation in policy experimentation exists. Thus, the puzzle motivating this talk is how do local officials filter these institutional changes to the extent of observed variations in local policy innovation?

Using recent fieldwork evidence, this talk presents three potential explanations: (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, viz. a communities of practice. While 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 will lose this “adaptable” governance mechanism that has contributed to its past economic and political successes.

About the Speaker:

Reza Hasmath (Ph.D., Cambridge) is a Professor in Political Science at the University of Alberta. Prior to this appointment he was a faculty member at the Universities of Oxford, Melbourne, and Toronto. His award-winning research is currently supported by various multi-year grant schemes, notably from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. His recent journal articles appear in the Journal of Social Policy, International Political Science Review, Voluntas, Development Policy Review, Journal of Civil Society, The China Quarterly, Current Sociology, and the Journal of Contemporary China.

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