The 2018 general elections in Cambodia, which were preceded by the dismantling of the opposition and succeeded by a highly contested all-out victory for prime minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), are widely considered the final blow to Cambodia’s crumbling democracy. Meanwhile, however, the occasional economic news is rather optimistic. For example, economic growth has consistently been around 7% since 1994, which led the World Bank to up Cambodia’s status from “low-income” to “lower-middle income” late 2016. One is inclined to believe, then, that authoritarian rule and economic development go hand in hand in the Cambodian context. This paper critically assesses this notion using Joe Studwell’s argument in 'How Asia Works' (2014). Studwell draws lessons from the development trajectories of a range of East Asian countries (not Cambodia) to argue that successful economic development requires a particular set of institutional arrangements and government policies with respect to agriculture, manufacturing and finance. Applying Studwell’s framework to the Cambodian context leads us to conclude that Hun Sen’s development agenda, which is based on government-business capture, is deficient. It is beneficial to the immediate economic expansion of narrow elites by compensating for and profiting from the lack of functioning formal institutions, but their selective support is not reconcilable with long-run sustainable growth. Akin to the impossibility of “making cakes without flour” – a Cambodian phrase referring to attempts to obtain something without effort, often at the expense of others – sustainable development in Cambodia cannot be achieved without autonomous, inclusive development policy.