A great challenge for capitalist development under authoritarian regimes is to effectively constrain predatory behavior. Beyond existing frameworks of the dictator’s time horizon and institutionalized power sharing, we introduce an alternative perspective—elite cleavage. We argue that the systematic vulnerability of marginalized local cadres motivated them to ally with grassroots constituents and protect local economic interests in order to increase the odds of political survival. Difference-in-Differences (DID) analysis of counties in two Chinese provinces shows that the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution created a moment of political decentralization which enabled marginalized local elites to protect local entrepreneurs against national-level radical policies, resulting in much more vibrant private economic activities in some regions. Further empirical evidence shows that elite cleavages formed in the 1940s had a long-lasting impact on economic performance in the reform era.
- authoritarian politics
- Cultural Revolution