As the Chinese Communist Party has loosened its grip in a more market-oriented economy, why have membership and the economic benefits of joining risen? We use three national household surveys over 11 years to answer this question for wages in urban China. Individual demand for Party membership is treated as an investment in 'political capital' that brings monetary rewards in terms of a wage premium that has risen in recent years. However, this does not explain why the wage premium is higher for the personal characteristics that reduce the probability of membership. Rationing with a scarcity value for members with those characteristics provides an explanation.
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