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The resource curse (also known as the paradox of plenty) refers to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically point-source non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. This is hypothesized to happen for many different reasons, including a decline in the competitiveness of other economic sectors (caused by appreciation of the real exchange rate as resource revenues enter an economy), volatility of revenues from the natural resource sector due to exposure to global commodity market swings, government mismanagement of resources, or weak, ineffectual, unstable or corrupt institutions (possibly due to the easily diverted actual or anticipated revenue stream from extractive activities).


Resource curse thesis

Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin … Oil is the Devil’s excrement.

The idea that natural resources might be more an economic curse than a blessing began to emerge in the 1980s. In this light, the term resource curse thesis was first used by Richard Auty in 1993 to describe how countries rich in natural resources were unable to use that wealth to boost their economies and how, counter-intuitively, these countries had lower economic growth than countries without an abundance of natural resources.[2] Numerous studies, including one by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner, have shown a link between natural resource abundance and poor economic growth.[3] This disconnect between natural resource wealth and economic growth can be seen by looking at an example from the petroleum-producing countries. From 1965-1998, in the OPEC countries, gross national product per capita growth decreased on average by 1.3%, while in the rest of the developing world, per capita growth was on average 2.2%.[4] Some argue that financial flows from foreign aid can provoke effects that are similar to the resource curse.[5]

Negative effects and causes



Natural resources can, and often do, provoke conflicts within societies (Collier 2007), as different groups and factions fight for their share. Sometimes these emerge openly as separatist conflicts in regions where the resources are produced (such as in Angola's oil-rich Cabinda province) but often the conflicts occur in more hidden forms, such as fights between different government ministries or departments for access to budgetary allocations. This tends to erode governments' abilities to function effectively. There are several main types of relationships between natural resources and armed conflicts. First, resource curse effects can undermine the quality of governance and economic performances, thereby increasing the vulnerability of countries to conflicts (the 'resource curse' argument). Second, conflicts can occur over the control and exploitation of resources and the allocation of their revenues (the 'resource war' argument). Third, access to resource revenues by belligerents can prolong conflicts (the 'conflict resource' argument).[6] According to one academic study, a country that is otherwise typical but has primary commodity exports around 25% of GDP has a 33% risk of conflict, but when exports are 5% of GDP the chance of conflict drops to 6%.[7][8]


In many economies that are not resource-dependent, governments tax citizens, who demand efficient and responsive government in return. This bargain establishes a political relationship between rulers and subjects. In countries whose economies are dominated by natural resources, however, rulers don't need to tax their citizens because they have a guaranteed source of income from natural resources [9] So this relationship between rulers and subjects breaks down. In addition, those benefiting from mineral resource wealth may perceive an effective and watchful civil service and civil society as a threat to the benefits that they enjoy, and they may take steps to thwart them. As a result, citizens are often poorly served by their rulers,[10] and if the citizens complain, money from the natural resources enables governments to pay for armed forces to keep the citizens in check. Countries whose economies are dominated by resource extraction industries tend to be more repressive, corrupt and badly-managed.[11]

Dutch disease

Dutch disease is an economic phenomenon in which the revenues from natural resource exports damage a nation's productive economic sectors by causing an increase of the real exchange rate and wage increase. This makes tradable sectors, notably agriculture and manufacturing, less competitive in world markets. The increasing national revenue will often result in higher government spending (health, welfare, military) that increases the real exchange rate and raises wages. The decrease in the sectors exposed to international competition and consequently even greater dependence on natural resource revenue leaves the economy vulnerable to price changes in the natural resource. Also, since productivity generally increases faster in the manufacturing sector, the economy will lose out on some of those productivity gains.

Revenue volatility

Prices for some natural resources are subject to wide fluctuation; for example crude oil prices rose from around $10/barrel in 1998/1999 to over $140/barrel in 2008. When government revenues are dominated by inflows from natural resources (for example, oil and diamonds accounted for 99.3%[12] of Angola's exports in 2005), this volatility can play havoc with government planning. Abrupt changes in economic realities that result from this often provoke widespread breaking of contracts, and this erodes the rule of law.

Excessive borrowing

Since governments expect more income in the future, they start accumulating debt, even though they are receiving natural resource revenues as well. This is encouraged, since, if the real exchange rate increases, through capital inflows or the Dutch disease, this makes the interest payments on the debt cheaper. In addition, the country's natural resources act as collateral leading to more credit. However, if the natural resources' prices begin to fall, and if the real exchange rate falls, a government would have less money with which to pay a more expensive debt. For example, many oil-rich countries like Nigeria and Venezuela saw rapid expansions of their debt burdens during the 1970s oil boom; however, when oil prices fell in the 1980s, bankers stopped lending to them and many of them fell into arrears, triggering penalty interest charges that made their debts grow even more.


In resource-rich countries, it is often easier to maintain authority through allocating resources to favoured constituents than through growth-oriented economic policies and a level, well-regulated playing field. Huge flows of money from natural resources fuel this political corruption. The government has less need to build up the institutional infrastructure to regulate and tax a productive economy outside the resource sector, so the economy may remain undeveloped.[13] The presence of offshore tax havens provide widespread opportunities for corrupt politicians to hide their wealth.

Lack of diversification and enclave effects

Economic diversification may be neglected by authorities or delayed in the light of the temporary high profitability of the limited natural resources. The attempts at diversification that do occur are often grand public works projects which may be misguided or mismanaged. However, even if the authorities try to diversify the economy, this is made difficult because the resource extraction is vastly more lucrative and out-competes other industry. Successful natural resource exporting countries often become more dependent on extractive industries over time. While the resource sectors tend to provide large financial revenues, they often provide few jobs, and tend to operate as enclaves with few forward and backward connections to the rest of the economy.

Human resources

In many poor countries, natural resource industries tend to pay far higher salaries than what would be available elsewhere in the economy. This tends to attract the best talent from both private and government sectors, so damaging these sectors by depriving them of their best skilled personnel. Another possible effect of the resource curse is the crowding out of human capital; countries that rely on natural resource exports may tend to neglect education because they see no immediate need for it. Resource-poor economies like Taiwan or South Korea, by contrast, spent enormous efforts on education, and this contributed in part to their economic success (see East Asian Tigers). Other researchers, however, dispute this conclusion; they argue that natural resources generate easily taxable rents that more often than not result in increased spending on education.[14]

Liberty and democracy

It has also been argued that one can correlate rises and falls in the price of petroleum with rises and falls in the implementation of human rights in major oil-producing countries.[15]


Economic growth

A 2008 study argues that the curse vanishes when looking not at the relative importance of resource exports in the economy but rather at a different measure: the relative abundance of natural resources in the ground. Using that variable to compare countries, it reports that resource wealth in the ground correlates with slightly higher economic growth and slightly fewer armed conflicts. That a high dependency on resource exports correlates with bad policies and effects is not caused by the large degree of resource exportation. The causation goes in the opposite direction: Conflicts and bad policies created the heavy dependence on exports of natural resources. When a country's chaos and economic policies scare off foreign investors and send local entrepreneurs abroad to look for better opportunities, the economy becomes skewed. Factories may close and businesses may flee, but petroleum and precious metals remain for the taking. Resource extraction becomes the "default sector" that still functions after other industries have come to a halt.[16]

Civil conflict

A 2008 working paper finds that oil discoveries actually lower the odds of civil war, inclusive of war aim. This surprising result is driven by the strong, negative relationship between oil and secessionist war.


A 2007 working paper [17] looks at the long-term relationship between the petroleum industry and regime type. They present evidence in support of the thesis that over the long run natural resource dependence did not affect the prevalence of democracy.

See also


  1. ^ Useem, Jerry (2003-02-03), The Devil's Excrement, Fortune Magazine,, retrieved 2009-11-06  
  2. ^ Auty, Richard M. (1993). Sustaining Development in Mineral Economies: The Resource Curse Thesis. London: Routledge.  
  3. ^ Sachs, Jeffrey D; Warner, Andrew M (1995-02-02), NBER Working Paper 5398: Natural resource abundance and economic growth,, retrieved 2009-06-29  
  4. ^ Gylfason, T (2001), "Natural resources, education, and economic development", European Economic Review (Elsevier) 45 (4-6): 847-859,  
  5. ^ Djankov, S; Montalvo, J G; Reynal-Querol, M (2008), "The curse of aid", Journal of Economic Growth (Springer) 13 (3): 169-194,  
  6. ^ Philippe Le Billon (2006), "Fuelling War: Natural Resources and Armed Conflicts", Adelphi Paper 373, IISS & Routledge
  7. ^ Natural resources and violent conflict: options and actions. Bannon, Ian and Collier, Paul (eds), (2003) World Bank,
  8. ^ Collier, Paul (2003) "Natural Resources, Development and Conflict: Channels of causation and Policy Interventions," World Bank.
  9. ^ By Deborah Bräutigam  . "Bräutigam, Deborah (2008). Development Policy Outlook ''Taxation and Governance in Africa''". Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  10. ^ Moore, Mick; Unsworth, Sue (2007). IDS Policy Briefing How Does Taxation Affect the Quality of Governance?.
  11. ^ "Lifting the Natural Resource Curse". Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  12. ^ Angola: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix. International Monetary Fund. October, 2007
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ "Stijns, Jean-Philippe (2006). Natural resource abundance and human capital accumulation. World Development, Volume 34, Issue 6, June, Pages 1060-1083". doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2005.11.005. Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  15. ^ Friedman, Thomas L.. "Friedman, Thomas L. (2006). The First Law of Petropolitics. Foreign Policy". Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  16. ^ Tierney, John (2008-05-05). "Linking Natural Resources to Slow Growth and More Conflict. C. N. Brunnschweiler1 and E. H. Bulte. Science 2 May 2008: Vol. 320. no. 5876, pp. 616 - 617 Comment in New York Times". Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  17. ^ Haber, Stephen and Victor Menaldo (2007). "Do Natural Resources Fuel Authoritarianism?". Stanford Center for International Development, Working Paper 351

Further reading

  • Ali, Saleem H. (2009). Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future. (Yale University Press, 2009)
  • Bulte EH, Damania R, Deacon RT (2005) Resource intensity, institutions, and development. World Dev 33(7): 1029–1044
  • Ross ML (1999) The political economy of the resource curse. World Polit 51(2): 297–322
  • The Paradox of Plenty, by Terry Lynn Karl
  • Escaping the Resource Curse, edited by Macartan Humphreys, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Joseph E. Stiglitz (Columbia University Press, 2007)
  • Poisoned Wells: the Dirty Politics of African Oil, by Nicholas Shaxson (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007)
  • Oil Wars, Edited by Mary Kaldor, Terry Lynn Karl and Yahya Said (Pluto Press, 2007)
  • Sachs J, Warner A (2001) The curse of natural resources, with Andrew Warner. Eur Econ Rev 45: 827–838.
  • Stevens P (2003) Resource impact: curse or blessing? A literature survey. J Energy Lit IX(1): 3–42
  • Michael Dauderstädt / Arne Schildberg (Eds.): Dead Ends of Transition. Rentier Economies and Protectorates. Frankfurt 2006.
  • Hodges, Tony. Angola: Anatomy of an Oil State. James Currey (2004).
  • Resource Curse, by Leif Wenar, (Policy Innovations, Spring (2007)
  • Ross, Michael 'A CLOSER LOOK AT OIL, DIAMONDS,AND CIVIL WAR' Annual Review of Political Science 2006. 9:265–300

External links


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