IDS working papers;268

The political economy of the resource curse : a literature survey

Published on 1 January 2006

This paper presents a critical survey of the literature on the ‘resource curse’, focusing on
three main questions: (i) are natural resources bad for development?; (ii) what causes the
resource curse?; and, (iii) how can the resource curse be overcome? In respect of these
questions, three observations are made. First, while the literature provides considerable
evidence that natural resource abundance is associated with various negative development
outcomes, this evidence is by no means conclusive. Second, existing explanations for the
resource curse do not adequately account for the role of social forces or external political
and economic environments in shaping development outcomes in resource abundant
countries, nor for the fact that, while most resource abundant countries have performed
poorly in developmental terms, a few have done quite well. Finally, recommendations for
overcoming the resource curse have not generally taken into account the issue of political
feasibility. More generally, it is argued that the basic problem with the literature is that
researchers have been too reductionist – they have tended to explain development
performance solely in terms of the size and nature of countries’ natural resource
endowments. A consensus is emerging that various political and social variables mediate the
relationship between natural resource wealth and development outcomes. But rather than
acknowledge that these variables are shaped by a range of historical and other factors in
each case, scholars have tended to see them as determined by the natural resource base.
Put differently, scholars have been asking the wrong question: rather than asking why
natural resource wealth has fostered various political pathologies and in turn promoted poor
development performance, they should have been asking what political and social factors
enable some resource abundant countries to utilise their natural resources to promote
development and prevent other resource abundant countries from doing the same.
Keywords: natural resources; civil war; democracy; economic growth

Publication details

Rosser, Andrew


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