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The Limits of Meritocracy: Screening Bureaucrats Under Imperfect Verifiability

Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato, Xiao Yu Wang, Shuang Zhang

NBER Working Paper No. 21963
Issued in February 2016, Revised in February 2016
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Labor Studies, Public Economics, Political Economy

Does bureaucratic ability predict promotion in governments? We show that self-reported performance in enforcing the One Child Policy predicts mayoral promotion in China. However, misreporting handicaps screening—a non-manipulated performance measure does not predict promotion. We show that this is consistent with a model where a government has a meritocratic objective but underestimates the imperfect verifiability of performance, rather than a model where a government is only interested in the illusion of meritocracy. Thus, despite meritocratic intentions, we challenge the notion that a successful promotion system effectively substituted for democratic institutions in explaining Chinese growth.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21963

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