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

By Michael L. Ross | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
More Petroleum, Less Democracy

The problem is that the good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and
gas reserves where there are democratic governments.

—former vice president Dick Cheney, 2000

IN JANUARY 2011, prodemocracy protests broke out across the Middle East. For decades, the Middle East has had less democracy, and more oil, than any other world region. This is no coincidence: oil-funded rulers have long used their petrodollars to entrench themselves in power and block democratic reforms. Although protesters took to the streets in almost every Arab country, they found it much easier to overthrow rulers in oil-poor countries, like Tunisia and Egypt, than rulers in oilrich states, like Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia.

Oil has not always been an impediment to democracy. Until the 1970s, oil producers were just as democratic—or undemocratic—as other countries. But from the late 1970s to the late 1990s, a wave of democracy swept across the globe, bringing freedom to countries in virtually every region—except the petroleum-rich countries of the Middle East, Africa, and the former Soviet Union. From 1980 to 2011, the democracy gap between the oil and non-oil states grew ever wider.

This chapter explains how oil has kept autocrats in power by enabling them to increase spending, reduce taxes, buy the loyalty of the armed forces, and conceal their own corruption and incompetence. Petroleum does not inevitably block democratic freedoms: a handful of oil-rich developing countries have still made transitions to democracy—most recently, Mexico and Nigeria. Yet among the oil states—both in the Middle East and beyond—transitions to democracy have been exceedingly rare. Oil and democracy do not easily mix.1

1 Students of Middle Eastern politics have long been familiar with oil’s corrosive effects on government accountability. Important studies of oil and authoritarian rule in the Middle East include Mahdavy 1970; Entelis 1976; First 1980; Skocpol 1982; Beblawi and Luciani 1987; Crystal 1990; Brand 1992; Anderson 1995; Gause 1995; Chaudhry 1997; Vandewalle 1998; Okruhlik 1999; Herb 1999; Lowi 2009. Yet for many years, the largest and most influential studies of global democracy said little about oil, and often avoided the Middle East entirely. See, for example, O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead 1986; Diamond, Linz, and Lipset 1988; Inglehart 1997; Przeworski et al. 2000.

-63-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Tables xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Country Abbreviations xix
  • Chapter One - The Paradoxical Wealth of Nations 1
  • Chapter Two - The Trouble with Oil Revenues 27
  • Chapter Three - More Petroleum, Less Democracy 63
  • Chapter Four - Petroleum Perpetuates Patriarchy 111
  • Chapter Five - Oil-Based Violence 145
  • Chapter Six - Oil, Economic Growth, and Political Institutions 189
  • Chapter Seven - Good News and Bad News about Oil 223
  • References 255
  • Index 281
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