Social welfare expansion in China: big business, development zones, and municipal politicians
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Since the late 1990s, there has been a rapid expansion of welfare – including education, social security, and health care – in China. But this expansion has not been evenly distributed; some cities have expanded welfare very rapidly while other cities have lagged far behind. Why do we see this variation? To answer this question, we need to begin by exploring the reasons why an authoritarian regime would expand welfare at all; after all, the government is not responding to voters. To understand both the motivations and variations of welfare expansion, this dissertation focuses on business-government relations, particularly (1) the role of big business, (2) the effect of bureaucratic structures, using development zones as a case study, and (3) the resources municipal politicians bring with them to their positions. This dissertation makes two major contributions. First, departing from the traditional state-centered approach in the study of authoritarian governance, it offers an alternative approach that focuses on the “demand” side of welfare provision by examining the role of big business. In countries without formal democratic institutions, firms’ influence on social policy is more capability based: large firms are more influential. Second, this project examines the bureaucratic structure of development zones and finds that they have a unique administrative structure (including higher political ranking, central government support and supervision, and more professional personnel), which enables the zone government to be more responsive to the needs of business, resulting in a better welfare provision. The dissertation also offers an explanation to distinct social policy priorities (i.e. human capital vs. social security) across cities by tracing how mayors’ work experience and political connections shape their decisions on cities’ growth strategies, which in turn contributes to differences in social policy outcomes. Empirically, this dissertation employs both quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitatively, it involved the construction of an original panel dataset with economic, political, and demographical information on all 336 Chinese cities from 2001 to 2012. Qualitatively, it offers in-depth case studies on several cities based on primary sources in Chinese language, including local gazetteers (difangzhi), yearbooks, newspapers, and published as well as unpublished internal government documents.