Early-Mover Advantage in Political Careers: A Sponsored-Mobility View of Chinese City-Level Officials
AbstractTournament competition is widely recognized as a basic mechanism of personnel control in organizations. However, tournament fails as an effective incentive scheme when the playing field is not level. In this paper, we argue that the playing field needs not be level because the principals do not want selection to be in that way. Instead, early-movers are chosen among same-level agents and enter a career track that affords more rotations and a higher rate of promotion. Using lifetime career path data of all city leaders in China between 1994 and 2016, we demonstrate an “early-selection-and-cultivation” pattern of their political careers, and argues for a “sponsored mobility” (Turner, 1960) interpretation of the political tournament in China.
Specifically, after controlling for economic performance, the career ceiling of city leaders depends on the diversity of their working experience, both across provinces and trans-departmental. The more frequent they are rotated across provinces and departments, the higher position they will reach in their later career. Thus, political rotation serves as a way of on-the-job-training that improves politicians’ human capital and social capital, and makes them more competent in moving up the political hierarchy. Further examination shows that younger officials are more likely to get rotation opportunities even if they did not appear to generate higher economic growth. These evidence suggest that an early-mover advantage may be important for thinking about the incentive of bureaucrats.