Current Urban Studies
2013. Vol.1, No.4, 148-155
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/cus) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/cus.2013.14016
Natural Resource Abundance and Economic
Performance—A Literature Review
Bimal Chandra Roy, Satyaki Sarkar, Nikhil Ranjan Mandal
Department of Architecture, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi, India
Received October 4th, 2013; revised November 5th, 2013; accepted November 15th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Bimal Chandra Roy et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is p roperly cited.
It would be a major error to take the decade of the 1970s as the prototype for minerals-based development.
The resource curse hypothesis seems anomalous as development economics, since on the surface it has no
clear policy implication, but stands as a sad prediction. Minerals are not a curse at all in the sense of in-
evitability; the curse, where it exists, is self-fulfilling. Needless to say, policies and institutions have to be
framed to local circumstances, country by country. But with good intentions and innovative thinking,
there is no reason why resource-rich countries need fall prey to the curse.
Keywords: Natural Resources; Resource Curse; Institutions; Economic Growth; Dutch Disease
Prior to the late 1980s, it was a common perception that the
natural resource abundance was beneficial for economic devel-
opment of a region. In 1950s most of the economists and geog-
raphers were of the opinion that a significant endowment of
natural resources facilitates the positive economic growth of
any country. According to development theorist Walter Rostow
(1961), the natural resource endowments would help develop-
ing countries to make transition from underdeveloped to de-
veloped as this natural resource abundance will act as the in-
dustrial “take-off”, just as it had done for countries like Aus-
tralia, USA and Britain.
Some of the radical economist s (Singer, 1950; Prebisch, 1950)
stated that the global economy and the nature of the interna-
tional commodity markets put the developing countries de-
pendent on natural resource export, at a serious disadvantage.
But this was a minority view and in general the natural resource
abundance was seen as a blessing for developing countries.
After the late 1980s a number of the literature has emerged
and challenged this conventional wisdom suggesting that the
countries with natural resource abundance increase the chance
that the country will experience negative economic growth.
This may seem to be a paradox but has been widely accepted by
This cycle of “resource curse” started with Sachs and Warner
(1995) hereafter referred to as SW who established a negative
correlation between the natural resource abundance and the
economic growth. SW statistically showed that countries with
more natural resources grow slowly compared to resource poor
countries. Richard M. Auty (2001) has written “Since the 1960s,
the resource poor countries have outperformed the resource rich
countries compared by a considerable margin”.
Many other researchers including economists, political scien-
tist and social scientists also agree with SW. But this apparent
paradox was a surprising phenomenon and was a topic of curi-
osity amongst many.
The Resource Curse Theory—Its Origin
Resource curse also known as the “paradox of plenty” is a
paradoxical situation in which countries with an abundance of
non-renewable resources experience stagnant growth or even
negative economic growth. The resource curse occurs as a
country begins to focus all of its energies on a single industry,
such as mining, and neglects other major sectors. As a result,
the nation becomes overly dependent on the price of commodi-
ties, and overall gross domestic product becomes extremely
volatile. Additionally, government corruption often results
when proper resource rights and an income distribution frame-
work is not established in the society, resulting in unfair regula-
tion of the industry.
Richard Auty first introduced the resource curse theory in his
1993 book “Sustaining Development in Mineral Economies:
The Resource Curse Thesis”. The opening sentences in that
“However, a growing body of evidence suggests that a fa-
vourable natural resource endowment may be less beneficial to
countries at low-and mid-income levels of development than
the conventional wisdom might suppose. Two important pieces
of evidence are the developing countries’ post-war industriali-
zation efforts and the performance of the mineral-rich develop-
ing countries since 1960s. The new evidence suggests that not
only many resource-rich developing countries fail to benefit
from a favourable endowment; they may actually perform
worse than less well-endowed countries. This counter-intuitive
outcome is the basis of the resource curse thesis”.
Though it seems that for countries endowed with larger
quantities of natural resources has an advantage and has to
B. C. ROY ET AL.
grow faster than resource poor countries, but this is not exactly
the case. Between 1960 and 1990 the per capita incomes of
resource poor countries grew two to three times faster than the
per capita income of resource abundant countries, and the gap
in the growth rates appears to widen with time (SW, 1999; Auty,
2001a). A large number of papers have been published in recent
years supporting the “resource curse” theory and effects that
may inhibit growth in resource rich economies.
Figure 1 illustrates for a cross section of countries, over the
last four decades. Exports of fuels, ores and metals as a fraction
of total merchandise exports appear on the horizontal axis and
economic growth on the vertical axis. Noticeably high in
growth and low in natural resources are China and some other
Asian countries. Noticeably high in natural resources and low
in growth are Venezuela and Zambia. The overall relationship
on average is slightly negative. The negative correlation is not
very strong, masking almost as many resource successes as
failures. But it certainly suggests no positive correlation be-
tween natural resource wealth and economic growth.
Many African countries such as Angola, Nigeria, Sudan, and
the Congo are rich in oil, diamonds, or other minerals, and yet
their peoples continue to experience low per capita income and
low quality of life. Meanwhile, the East Asian economies Japan,
Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong have achieved west-
ern-level standards of living despite being rocky islands (or
peninsulas) with virtually no exportable natural resources.
Recently the so called resource curse has gained attention
largely. Firstly it was established by SW in 1995. Later evi-
dence and further refinement by SW (2001), Gylfason (2001)
and Kroneberg (2004) has confirmed the existence of a nega-
tive relationship between natural resource abundance and eco-
nomic growth. The issue, however, remains in dispute.
Some researchers have analyzed the universality of these re-
sults to alternative econometric techniques while others have
focused on explaining the factors underlying this negative rela-
tionship (Rodriguez & Sachs, 1999; Leite & Weidman, 2002;
Lederman & Maloney, 2002; Haussmann & Rigobon 2003;
Mehlum et al., 2006; Hodler, 2005).
Figure 2, reproduced from Manzano and Rigobon (2008),
illustrates for a cross section of countries. Exports of primary
products as a fraction of GDP appear on the horizontal axis and
economic growth on the vertical axis. The relationship on av-
erage is slightly negative. The negative correlation is not very
strong, masking almost as many resource successes as failures.
But it certainly suggests no positive correlation between natural
resource wealth and economic growth.
Several recent papers, however (Alexeev & Conrad, 2009;
Stijns, 2005; Brunnschweiler, 2006), question the mere exis-
tence of the “resource curse” and make it necessary to recon-
sider the hypotheses about the impact of resource abundance on
Impact of Natural Resource Abundance
during Different Time Periods
In the 1950-60 the prime concern was based upon deteriorat-
ing terms of trade between the “centre” and “periphery” (Pre-
bisch, 1950; Singer, 1950) with limited economic linkages from
primary product export to the rest of the economy (Baldwin,
1966; Hirschman, 1958; Seers, 1964). In 1970 oil shocks on the
oil exporting countries was experienced in terms of retarded
economic growth of the oil rich countries (Van Wijnber-
Statistical relationship between mineral exports and growth; Source:
World Development Indicators , World Bank.
Natural resource abundance and growth; Source: Manzano and
gen, 1984; Mabro & Munroe, 1974; Mabro, 1980).
In the 1980’s the Dutch disease phenomenon was noticed
(Corden & Neary 1982; Corden & Max, 1984), in which the
discovery of abundant natural gas affected negatively the other
sectors particularly the manufacturing sector and there was a
slowdown in the economic growth.
In the 1990’s it was the impact of the natural resources like
oil, gas and minerals on government behaviour or the institu-
tional efficiency and quality that dominated. The impact of
institutional quality and efficiency was found to be the subjec-
tive factor which when combined with natural resource abun-
dance resulted a positive economic growth.
Types of Natural Resources
Some recent researches are of the opinion that the pattern of
the creation of comparative advantages as a country develops
depends not only on whether it is natural resource abundant or
Open Access 149
B. C. ROY ET AL.
not, but also on the type of natural resources that abound. For
instance, mineral-abundant countries are positioned in a diver-
sification cone with low levels of capital per worker and where
they are net importers of all manufacturing goods. In contrast to
countries with comparative advantages in forestry and agricul-
tural products, mining countries are the least likely group to
change their specialization pattern towards manufacturing
On the basis of geographic surface coverage, the natural re-
sources can be classified into two types—Point Resources and
Point resources are extracted from a narrow geographic or
economic base and include oil and minerals. The fact that these
resources are spatially concentrated implies that they can be
protected and controlled at a relatively modest cost. Diffuse
resources, on the other hand, are spread thinly in space, and
harvested or utilized by agents characterized by horizontal rela-
tionships of rough equality and include the agriculture and for-
Almost all the studies suggest that “point” or concentrated
resources result in “worse” institutions, but “diffuse” resources
do not. Formal theories for this phenomenon are scarce.
The Resource Curse Models
Dutch Disease Model
The phenomenon was first observed in the Netherlands in the
1960s, when large reserves of natural gas in the North Sea were
initially exploited where the manufacturing sector declined and
suffered general inflation as a result of the booming natural gas
sector, which commenced production in 1959. With rising gas
exports Holland’s exchange rate appreciated against the US
dollars and pushed wages up faster than productivity gain in the
non-gas sector of the economy. Thus Holland’s competitiveness
in its other exports, especially manufacturing, was reduced
while its demand for domestic non-tradable goods rose, giving
rise to inflation and declining savings in investment.
Later in 1970 Dutch Disease experience was seen in oil rich
As SW (1995) elaborates:
“The greater the resources endowments, the higher the de-
mand for non-tradable goods, and the smaller will be the allo-
cation of labour and capital to the manufacturing and agricul-
ture sector. Therefore when natural resources are abundant,
tradable production is concentrated in natural resources rather
than manufacturing, and capital and labour that otherwise might
be employed in manufacturing are pulled into the non-traded
goods sector. As a result, when an economy experiences a re-
source boom (either a terms-of-trade improvement or a resource
discovery), the manufacturing sector tends to shrink and the
non-traded goods sector tends to expand. The shrinkage of the
manufacturing sector is dubbed the ‘disease’, though there is
nothing harmful about the decline in manufacturing if neoclas-
sical, competitive conditions prevail in the economy”.
In the Dutch disease model, the economy has three sectors: a
tradable natural resource sector, a tradable (non-resource) sector,
and a non-traded sector. The greater the natural resource en-
dowment, the higher is the demand for non-tradable goods, and
consequently, the smaller will be the allocation of labour and
capital to the manufacturing sector.
In Matsuyama’s (1992) model there are two sectors, agricul-
ture and manufacturing. Manufacturing is characterized by
learning-by-doing, that is, the rate of human capital accumula-
tion in the economy is proportional to total sectoral production,
not to the production of an individual firm. Hence the social
return to manufacturing employment exceeds the private return.
Any force which pushes the economy away from manufactur-
ing and towards agriculture will lower the growth rate by re-
ducing the learning-induced growth of manufacturing. Ma-
tsuyama shows that trade liberalization in a land-intensive
economy could actually slow economic growth by inducing the
economy to shift resources away from manufacturing and to-
In Matsuyama’s model, the adverse effects of agricultural
production arise because the agricultural sector directly em-
ploys the factors of production that otherwise would be in
manufacturing. Such a framework may be useful for studying
labour-intensive production of natural resources, such as in ag-
riculture, but is less relevant for a natural resource sector like
oil production, which uses very little labour, and therefore does
not directly draw employment from manufacturing. However, it
is not difficult to extend Matsuyama’s same point in a Hence,
lack of savings, heavy dependence on resource revenue and
expending them on consumption in the non-tradable goods sec-
tor, diversion of labour and capital from agriculture and manu-
facturing sectors to the booming sector, and higher prices
caused by higher wages in the resource sector, with its resultant
inflation, all combine to cause the Dutch disease, which conse-
quently affects growth and cause the resource curse.
The Rent-Seeking (Rentier) Model
The term “rent-seeking” was introduced by Krueger (1974),
but the fundamental theory had already been developed by Tul-
Although originally developed to explain the social welfare
losses involved in the establishment of monopolies, tariffs, and
subsidies, models of rent-seeking behaviour have been at the
forefront of recent attempts to explain the resource curse phe-
nomenon. A common theme of these models is that political
institutions conducive to rent-seeking underlie failures of socie-
ties to realize benefits from natural resource wealth. Natural
resource wealth is a “curse” rather than a benefit to society
when property rights are not defined or respected and the
wealth becomes a rent-seeking prize (Congleton et al., 2008).
The role of political institutions is central to all rent-seeking
models of the resource curse. At the very least, the predictions
of these models vary depending on how effective political in-
stitutions are at preventing rent-seeking behaviour. Moreover,
institutions are themselves endogenous in many of the models
and can be negatively affected by a resource windfall. This
endogeneity of institutions is a distinguishing aspect of rent-
seeking models of the resource curse that is not present in
mainstream rent-seeking models.
In recent years the literature on the resource curse has taken a
turn toward political economy explanations. This turn was mo-
tivated by two empirical regularities that are consistent with a
political economy story: 1) resource abundance tends to be a
curse only when governance institutions are weak initially, and
2) a curse is most likely to plague resources that are found in
dense concentrations and are thus easily appropriable. As part
of the broad shift toward political economy frameworks, sev-
eral authors have relied on the idea of rent-seeking to make
B. C. ROY ET AL.
sense of the resource curse phenomenon.
In Wright and Gavin (1990), Gavin also addressed a second
issue: “whether resource abundance reflected geological en-
dowment or greater exploitation of geological potential”. He
argued that “it was mainly the latter”. The 1990 paper set the
stage for two quite different later papers, David and Wright
(1997) and Clay and Wright (2005). Although the focus and
methodologies were quite different, each examined the institu-
tions that supported this greater exploitation. Both Wright
(1990) and SW (1995) explicitly examined exports. Drawing on
data from 97 countries, Sachs and Warner demonstrated that
during the 1970s and 1980s “economies with abundant natural
resources have tended to grow less rapidly than natural-re-
source-scarce economies”. The subsequent literature has further
documented this regularity and begun to explore its origins. As
we will discuss in more detail later, some scholars have found
that the empirical regularity is sensitive to how natural re-
sources are measured.
A broad interpretation of Wright (1990) and the later litera-
ture on resource curses suggest that they are not necessarily
inconsistent. Suppose countries with good institutions were the
first to develop their natural resources. The United States and
England would be good examples of these early countries.
Other countries developed the necessary infrastructure later and
began to exploit their natural resources in the early part of the
twentieth century. Following World War II markets became less
national and more international. Thus the discovery and devel-
opment of natural resources became less dependent on country-
specific infrastructure. For example, multinational corporations
could effectively develop resources in countries even if they
had weak institutions. Certainly by the 1970s and 1980s, the
countries with the largest as yet undeveloped resources were
also the countries with the weakest institutions. Thus, a coher-
ent story can be told that integrates these apparently disparate
SW (1997) found limited evidence of natural resources af-
fecting growth through bureaucratic quality. The evidence was
stronger for protectionism. In most economies, resource abun-
dance negatively affects the manufacturing sector, which leads
to a protectionist response. In a few oil countries, this does not
hold. These results raise questions regarding whether the em-
pirical effect and the possible channels would be similar during
other periods and with other samples. For example, it is not
clearly what one would find if one replicated the Sachs and
Warner analysis for the period 1879 to 1928.
This period is when Gavin finds the biggest effect of natural
resources on exports. Mehlum, Moene, and Torvik (2006) stud-
ied growth over a longer period 1965-1990 using the sample of
87 countries from SW (1997b). They found that the effect of
resources on growth is mediated by institutions. They began by
examining growth and resources only for countries where re-
source exports represent more than 10 percent of GDP. These
criteria leave them with a data set covering 42 countries. They
found that the resource curse only holds for the 21 countries
with the worst institutions. In these countries, they argued that
rent seeking and production are competing activities. In con-
trast, in the 21 countries with the best institutions, they argue
that rent seeking and production are complementary activities.
They then showed that their results hold for the full data set.
Robinson, Torvik, and Verdier (2006) modelled the interaction
of natural resource growth with political policies. Based on the
model and empirical analysis, they found that institutions were
important mediators of the effects of resource booms. Subse-
quent work by Yang (2008) argued that it was not institutions,
but rather policies that affect outcomes. Countries with good
institutions can have bad policies and the reverse.
Wright and Czelusta (2004), drawing on a variety of detailed
country-level case studies, presented evidence that policies and
institutions are critical determinants of how natural resources
affect an economy. They began by noting that the measure of
resource dependence used by SW (1995) and later scholars was
not really a measure of natural resource abundance. It was a
measure of export dependency, which may or may not corre-
spond to abundance. They cite the empirical work by Maloney
(2002) and Stijns (2005). Brunnschweiler (2008) both surveyed
the existing literature and computed new measures of resource
endowments. She showed that endowments were positively
related to growth.
Contrary to well established perception, so-called “non-re-
newable” can be progressively extended through exploration,
technological progress, and investments in appropriate knowl-
edge. It is suggested that such processes operate within coun-
tries as well as for the world as a whole. The countries re-
viewed are by no means representative, but they are far from
homogeneous, and together they disprove the allegation that
resource-based development is “cursed”. The resource price
escalation of the 1970s did indeed constitute an exogenous
unanticipated windfall boom from the perspective of many
It is obvious in retrospect that those boom times were des-
tined to end, and perhaps one can argue that even then, coun-
tries should have been more aware of the transient character of
the boom and planned accordingly. Without doubt, many coun-
tries made poor use of these onetime gains. There is no guaran-
tee offered against corruption, rent-seeking, and mismanage-
ment of mineral and other natural resources. But the experience
of the 1970s stands in marked contrast to the 1990s, when min-
eral production steadily expanded through purposeful explora-
tion and ongoing advances in the technologies of search, ex-
traction, refining, and utilization; in other words, by a process
of learning. It would be a major error to take the decade of the
1970s as the prototype for minerals-based development.
Gavin and Jesse (1990) then turned to policy. According to
Wright and Czelusta (2004), “Non-renewable can be progres-
sively extended through exploration, technological progress,
and investments in appropriate knowledge”. They argued that
countries with policies that have focused on these dimensions
have been successful. Similarly bad policies or institutions can
lead to bad outcomes. They further found that “Contrary to the
paradoxical result that resource abundant countries tend to in-
vite rent seeking and therefore suffer from worse institutions,
we find that countries with certain industrial designs may fail to
industrialize—and failing to develop significant non-resource
sectors may make them dependent on primary sector extrac-
Although some countries may have experienced more suc-
cess than others for a variety of reasons, the key issue was that
natural resources were a complement to manufacturing. One
reason was that high transportation costs and limited function-
ing of world markets made exporting most natural resources
without further processing or value added unattractive. Coun-
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B. C. ROY ET AL.
tries without strong institutions and some manufacturing or
processing capability simply did not develop their natural re-
source base. Eventually, particularly after World War II, trans-
portation costs fell and world commodity markets expanded.
This made it profitable for many more countries to develop
their natural resources, often with the aid of large multinational
corporations. But most of the countries with large and relatively
untapped natural resource bases were precisely those countries
with weak institutions or limited manufacturing or processing
capability. To be sure, there were some exceptions. North Sea
Oil discoveries in Britain and Norway would certainly be ex-
amples. But the vast majority of countries were negatively se-
lected. As Gavin and Jesse (1990) note, this did not necessarily
doom them. Some countries began to invest in education, tech-
nology, and processing. However, many other countries ex-
perienced turmoil, because newfound wealth, volatility in world
commodity markets, and weak institutions proved to be an un-
fortunate combination. Hence we observe resource curse.
The relationship between resource abundance and economic
growth is not clear-cut; it could be either positive or negative. It
is also possible that resource abundance has no significant im-
pact on economic growth, in the absence of other complemen-
tary factors. Thus, there seem to be both growth enhancing and
growth retarding factors that can make resource abundance a
blessing or a curse.
Shortcomings of the Resource Curse Hypothesis
Wright and Czelusta (2004) put the term “resource curse” to
critical scrutiny and found that the resource-curse literature
pays little attention to the economic character of mineral re-
sources or to the concept of “resource abundance”. Most of the
researchers have a black box approach. Virtually without excep-
tion, these studies equate the export of mineral products with
“resource abundance”, seen as a simple reflection of an exoge-
nously given geological “endowment”. This synonymy is a
matter of implicit assumption rather than analysis or demon-
stration, generally unquestioned, and all too often unrecognized.
On closer scrutiny, each step in this chain of equivalences is
questionable. Comparative advantage in resource products is
not equivalent to “resource abundance”.
Most of the studies related to Resource Curse Hypothesis
measure resource intensity in relation to GDP, exports or, in the
case of Gylfason, T. and Zoega, G. (2002), total capital stock
except Stijns (2001) who measures resource intensity in terms
of natural capital per capita.
In almost all the studies the growth is measured using a sin-
gle, period average annual growth rate, which is modelled in a
cross-sectional regression framework. Manzano, O., and Rigo-
bon, R., (2003) use panel data and they derive a number of pe-
riod average annual growth rates. Further including renewable
resources in the measure of natural resource intensity, and par-
ticularly, agricultural production is questionable as it is of dif-
fuse resources in nature. Interestingly, Alicia N. Rambaldi
(2006) et al. found neither direct nor indirect support for the
Resource Curse Hypothesis.
As an economy develops it undergoes structural change, in-
cluding a decline in the share of primary output in GDP and
exports (Chenery, 1960; Chenery & Syrquin, 1975). With the
accumulation of manufactured capital a given stock of natural
capital will decline as a proportion of total capital. Countries
that were once, by these measures, resource rich and successful
in avoiding the resource curse would cease to be classified re-
source-intensive. It was only because of vast ore and coal de-
posits that countries like Great Britain and Germany were able
to industrialize. By contrast, resource rich countries that have
performed badly will continue to appear as resource intensive.
SW (2001: 832-833), defend their adherence to a GDP-based
measure arguing that currently rich countries that successfully
reinvested their natural resource rents did not enjoy the same
degree of resource-intensity as the most highly resource-inten-
sive in the mid-to-late 20th century. Even if this assertion is
empirically correct, the point of the econometric analysis is to
test the relationship between countries’ degree of resource-
intensity and economic growth. If the measure of the inde-
pendent variable (resource intensity) is affected by historical
changes in the dependent variable (economic growth), circular-
ity and bias are inevitable.
Studies that use more appropriate measures of mineral abun-
dance (such as reserves per capita or the level of natural re-
source exports per worker) do not find that these variables are
negatively associated with growth rates (Maloney, 2002; Stijns,
Use of Period Averages vs. Panel Data
The major econometric deficiency of studies using single pe-
riod mean growth rates as the dependent variable is the infor-
mation lost as there can only be one observation for each coun-
try in the cross-sectional analysis. Using a single, average
growth rate from a highly turbulent, two-decade period; mostly,
1970-1990 effectively assumes that the economy has experi-
enced a steady rate of growth (Maloney, 2001; Neumayer,
2004). One exception is Manzano, O., & Rigbon, R., (2003)
who replicate SW’s (1995) cross-sectional analysis using panel
data. However, they calculate two to four period-averages from
the panel. In their model a Fixed Effects estimator is used
which removes any time invariant factors such as geography
variables from the estimation. Splitting the panel into such large
time periods may again fail to capture the effects of expansions
and contractions in the resource sector adequately.
When using our measure, evidence of a positive relationship
between natural resource abundance and growth is found. We
conclude that testing the resource curse hypothesis can be
strongly dependent on the definition of resource-intensity and
the measurement and modelling of economic growth.
Natural Resource Abundance and
the Institutional Quality
Most of the researches are of the opinion that institutional
quality of resource abundant countries play a critical role in the
economic growth. For instance, in the Mehlum et al. (2006)’
study “Countries rich in natural resources constitute both
growth losers and growth winners”; the final result depends on
the quality of institutions (p. 16). Mehlum et al. (2006) argue
that the resource curse only appears in countries with inferior
institutions (p. 3).
Institutional quality doesn’t depend on a single indicator. In
the empirical literature the term institutions encompass a wide
range of indicators, including: 1) institutional quality (the en-
forcement of property rights); 2) political instability (riots, civil
B. C. ROY ET AL.
wars); 3) distinctiveness of political regimes (elections, consti-
tutions, executive powers); 4) social characteristics (differences
in income and in ethnic, religious, and historical background);
and 5) social capital (the extent of civic activity and organiza-
Economists often rely on one or several of these types of in-
dicators to capture the features of institutions, although each
one has a different impact on growth. However, the largest part
of studies on institutional empirical approach relies on the im-
portance of creating an institutional environment that is gener-
ally supportive of markets (e.g., protection of property rights
and enforcement of contracts).
But in quantitative work on the resource curse hypothesis,
the institutional channel has seldom been verified with much
success, although it has frequently been mentioned as an im-
portant potential cause of the curse. Institutional quality is often
simply controlled for by using a measure of corruption (e.g.,
Papyrakis & Gerlagh, 2004; Sachs & Warner, 1995a). There are
some notable exceptions: Bulte, Damania, and Deacon (2005)
find that natural resource abundance, and especially mineral
resources, has an ambiguous direct effect on several measures
of human development, and a slightly negative indirect effect
via two measures of institutional quality i.e. the rule of law and
From a more qualitative angle, historians, political scientists,
and economists generally agree that the presence of abundant
natural resources (especially minerals) leads to rent seeking be-
haviour and corruption, thereby decreasing the quality of gov-
ernment, which in turn negatively affects economic perform-
ance (e.g., Auty, 2001; Isham et al., 2005; Leite & Weidmann,
1999; Norman, 2009). Robinson et al. (2006) develop a politi-
cal economy model which shows that the impact of a ‘‘resource
boom’’ crucially depends on the quality of the political institu-
Countries with worse-quality institutions are more likely to
suffer from a resource curse. There is also evidence that natural
resource abundance considerably increases the potential of
violent civil conflict (Collier & Hoeffler, 2005). Empirically,
rent-seeking due to natural resources has been shown to be
nonlinear, both with respect to income and the total amount of
resources in a country. In his cross-country study, Ross (2001)
finds that the negative resource effects of mineral abundance on
institutions decline with increasing income levels and with
greater past mineral exports. And in their case study of Nigeria,
Sala-i-Martin and Subramaniam (2003: p. 10) describe how ‘‘oil
corrupts and excess oil corrupts more than excessively’’. They
stress that the natural resource curse only holds for mineral—
and particularly oil abundance, and not agricultural products
and food (all measured by their respective export shares).
In a different angle, Atkinson and Hamilton (2003) show that
natural resource abundance may have negative effects on de-
velopment when weak institutions allow resource profits to be
spent in government consumption rather than investment, espe-
cially in countries with low levels of genuine saving. Stijns
(2005) contends that there are both positive and negative chan-
nels through which natural resource abundance affects eco-
nomic growth: he finds that land abundance tends to have nega-
tive effects on all determinants of growth, including different
measures of institutional quality, while the effects of mineral
abundance are less clear-cut. He concludes that ‘‘learning proc-
esses’’ are the crucial element in determining the direction of
influence of resource wealth on growth, that is, how countries
exploit and develop their resources.
From the literature, it emerges that the growth and develop-
ment effects of natural resource abundance are rather ambigu-
ous when institutional quality is included in the analysis: there
may in fact only be a curse when natural resource wealth occurs
together with low-quality institutions. The most important in-
stitutional aspects in this context appear to be the rule of law
and corruption, and the competence of the state and particularly
the bureaucracy aspects which are in fact connected.
The Policy Lessons
A proper policy may help in reducing the curse effect or con-
vert the curse into blessings. Two questions are of great impor-
tance, what policy has been followed to help the usual suspect
of curse to be enjoyed as blessings. There can’t be “one policy
fits all” as the countries vary in sizes, types of natural resources,
Human Development Index, political, economic and social con-
ditions. However there may be some commonalities and in all
cases the fiscal prudent is of great importance. One dimension
is the allocation of the revenue generated meticulously for a
long time gain. It may be the technology sector or learning
sector first, then the physical infrastructure development.
Second one is how this revenue generated is utilised inter-
nally for the economic growth of the region. It should be spent
on the productive activities. Most of the money may trickle
down into private sectors. This may be beneficial for boosting
savings and investments. Even if this trickling down of revenue
is driven by rent seeking or corruption and this money is in-
vested domestically, may help up to a certain extent for eco-
nomic growth even if does a little for distribution of income.
The problem begins when rent and fruit of corruption accumu-
late to the bureaucrats and politicians who try to either consume
this domestically or deposit in their overseas accounts.
The resource curse is a phenomenon that occurs at a broader
scale than just economic growth—countries that rely on point
resources tend to perform worse across a spectrum of criteria.
This reinforces a conclusion that others have reached: institu-
tional reform may well be a necessary condition for countries to
develop. Finally, if the effects of GDP per capita and govern-
ance are accounted for both point and diffuse resource abun-
dance typically have no significant impact (or only a weakened
impact) on development.
The experiences of these countries suggest that the resource
curse phenomenon is neither universal nor inevitable. Whether
resource abundance is a curse or blessing, it appears to hinge on
host country circumstances and on the particular resource in-
volved. Still, the notion that having more of any natural re-
source could be disadvantageous in any circumstance is suffi-
ciently counter-intuitive to meri t serious study.
It would be a major error to take the decade of the 1970s as
the prototype for minerals-based development. The resource
curse hypothesis seems anomalous as development economics,
since on the surface it has no clear policy implication, but
stands as a sad prediction: countries having rich natural re-
source endowments have poor growth prospects. Minerals
themselves are not to blame for problems of rent seeking and
corruption. Instead, it is largely the manner in which policy
makers and businesses view minerals that determines the out-
Open Access 153
B. C. ROY ET AL.
come. If minerals are conceived as fixed stocks, and mineral
abundance as a bonus unconnected to past investment, then the
problem becomes one of dividing up the reward rather creating
more reward. Minerals are not a curse at all in the sense of in-
evitability; the curse, where it exists, is self-fulfilling.
Needless to say, policies and institutions have to be framed to
local circumstances, country by country. But with good inten-
tions and innovative thinking, there is no reason why re-
source-rich countries need fall prey to the curse.
Future research arguably should be based on other measures
of resource abundance. Following SW (1997), most studies
measure resource abundance by the share of natural resource
exports in GDP (or total exports). This is of course a direct
measure of a country’s resource export dependence, and as a
flow measure it is at best only an imperfect proxy for a coun-
try’s actual resource stock. Export shares will not be an accu-
rate measure of resource abundance unless there is a consistent
and invariant mapping between in situ resource stocks and an-
nual exports of these stocks. One could argue that the generic
SW regression merely demonstrates that primary export inten-
sity hampers growth, and dismiss the more far-reaching propo-
sition that resource abundance impedes growth. To demonstrate
convincingly that resource abundance is indeed a curse, and
that the results now so prominent in the literature are not spuri-
ous, future empirical analysis needs to be based on measures of
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