Saturday, July 16, 2011

Resource Curse: A Problem of Leaders not Resources

In political science, one is subjected to many countries plagued by something called a resource curse. A resource curse occurs when a country has large amounts of a valuable commodity most often oil, and decides to build their entire economy around that one plentiful commodity, rather than building a stronger more diversified economy. Other industries are left either poorly functioning or in downright decay. The problems for a country subject to a resource curse are plentiful. First, if a country has one commodity that brings riches on the global market, the supplies of that commodity often end up consolidated in the hands of a few connected leaders who use the funds for their own self gratifying projects such as elaborate palaces for themselves and family members, while thousands of their citizens don’t even have proper roofs to keep the rain out. A second problem with the resource curse is that cursed nations are never economically secure. Oil rich countries such as Russia and The Middle Eastern states are subject to the brutal chaos of the global commodities market. When oil is $100 dollars a barrel, the economy is great, but when oil is $30, the economy isn’t so great. Leaving governments to cut spending on social programs or raise taxes to cover costs.

Today I would like to redefine the notion of a resource curse because it implies that having the resource itself is a curse. Oil, natural gas, precious metals, are not the evil that plagues most of Africa, parts of Asia, and most prominently Russia. The true problem plaguing these countries is that they are governed by a group of elites that won’t, or are unable to diversify their economies, who in turn subject their populations to a perpetual cycle of boom and bust economics. It is ironic these men are labeled strongmen or autocrats simply because they have armies behind them, because leaders of resource cursed states are actually operating from positions of logical weakness. Their entire rule is at the mercy of the global commodities market. The real curse lies not within resources, but rather the men who become so corrupted by power and money that they can’t see the big picture. These men usually wake up when the protesters are streaming towards their opulent dens of corruption and the army stands down letting the title wave sweep him from power.

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