• Accountability;
  • selectorate;
  • political agency;
  • Chinese economic reform


Why was the Chinese State able to promote economic growth during the reform era, yet has been unable to do so over the previous 30 years? In this article, we focus on a specific aspect of the question, which will contribute to the development of a more comprehensive explanation: the specific institutional arrangement that may induce the autocratic government to adopt growth-enhancing policies. We consider a standard political-agency model (Besley, 2006) where the incumbent leader may or may not be congruent, and where, to maintain power, both leader types need the support of the selectorate, an elite group having a say in selecting the leader, as well as associated access to special privileges. Primarily, we find that in autocracies, without electoral discipline to restrain the opportunistic behaviour of a leader, the size of the selectorate should be intermediate; if it is too small, the selectorate is captured by the leader and has no disciplinary role, but if too big, the leader's incentives are diluted.