The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations

The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations

The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations

The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations


Countries that are rich in petroleum have less democracy, less economic stability, and more frequent civil wars than countries without oil. What explains this oil curse? And can it be fixed? In this groundbreaking analysis, Michael L. Ross looks at how developing nations are shaped by their mineral wealth--and how they can turn oil from a curse into a blessing.

Ross traces the oil curse to the upheaval of the 1970s, when oil prices soared and governments across the developing world seized control of their countries' oil industries. Before nationalization, the oil-rich countries looked much like the rest of the world; today, they are 50 percent more likely to be ruled by autocrats--and twice as likely to descend into civil war--than countries without oil.

The Oil Curse shows why oil wealth typically creates less economic growth than it should; why it produces jobs for men but not women; and why it creates more problems in poor states than in rich ones. It also warns that the global thirst for petroleum is causing companies to drill in increasingly poor nations, which could further spread the oil curse.

This landmark book explains why good geology often leads to bad governance, and how this can be changed.


Anyone who has dreamed of winning the lottery or finding buried treasure assumes that a large cash windfall will make them better off. But for many developing countries, finding valuable natural resources can have strange and sometimes politically harmful consequences. This book explains the origins and nature of this “curse,” and how it might be remedied.

Since I began to research this issue in the late 1990s, a lot has changed. Earlier studies of the resource curse focused on the puzzling commodity booms of the 1970s, which produced mountains of cash but little sustained growth in most resource-rich countries. Since 2000 there has been a new boom in commodity prices, generating a new flood of revenues for mineral-producing countries, and a new interest in the perverse effects of resource wealth. It has also given scholars a wealth of new data on the links between natural resources, economics, and politics.

The political landscape has also shifted. Many petroleum-exporting countries have adopted new institutions to manage their windfalls. Thanks to pressures from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), new international agreements have been launched to choke off the trade in conflict diamonds, and promote revenue transparency in the oil, gas, and minerals sectors. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—which I criticized in a 2001 Oxfam report for funding mining projects that did little to help the poor—have embraced the cause of extractive-sector reforms.

When I began to write this book in 2005, I reexamined my own previously published studies suggesting that resource wealth made countries less democratic and more prone to civil war. To my embarrassment, I found more than a few errors, omissions, and hard-to-defend assumptions. Prompted by some smart skeptics—notably Michael Herb, Stephen Haber, Victor Menaldo, Gavin Wright, Robert Conrad, Michael Alexeev, Erwin Bulte, and Christina Brunnschweiler—I decided to take a fresh look at the data.

I discovered some surprises. Things I assumed were true—that petroleum wealth was linked to slow economic growth and weak government institutions—were probably wrong. Other findings held up, although in modified forms. Patterns that I thought I understood, like the relationship between oil and authoritarianism, and oil and civil . . .

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