The Resource Curse: Lessons of the Third World

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2015-1-28-39

V. Shmat, Institute of Economics and Industrial Engineering, Siberian Division Russian Academy of Sciences, 17, Lavrentiev Prosp., Novosibirsk, 630090, Russian Federation (

Acknowledgement. The article has been supported by a grant of the Russian Science Foundation. Project 14-18-02345.

Abstract. According to the hypothesis known as the “resource curse”, natural resources abundance is a brake on economic growth of many Third World countries. But is it really so? The author believes there are deeper reasons why the Third World in general – regardless of the amount of raw material resources available in each country – cannot achieve the same level of welfare as the First World. The “resource curse” theory looks for the origins of the resourceful countries’ economic problems in the institutional sphere. But this seems misleading because of excessively narrow “here and now” approach. The economic and socio-political institutions of individual countries are regarded in short periods of time when “curse” declared itself. Its typical manifestations, such as rent-seeking, stagnation or degradation of the institutions, authoritarian power, snowballing public debt and symptoms of Dutch disease, were seen in many Third World countries long before the development of the major sources of raw materials and regardless of the availability or absence of them. Therefore, it seems appropriate to speak of a kind of “three-fold institutional curse” as an explanation of continuing underdevelopment of many countries and territories. Poor national institutions in the Third World countries are not actually caused by the presence or absence of concentrated natural resources. This is the result of prior historical development with series of discrete transitions from one condition to another: from colonial status – to independent statehood; from poverty – to unexpected wealth mostly based on the exploitation of the natural resources. Qualitative transformation of national institutions usually lags far behind. As a consequence, institutional development enters into a state of stagnation (inhibiting or destabilizing economic growth) that can stretch for very long periods of time. The author concludes that the presence or absence of resources, in fact, has no fundamental impact on the nature of socio-economic development of Third World countries. The major reason hindering institutional progress has external nature, that is heavy economic dependence on the First World (coupled with informal political subordination). This circumstance begets the “resource nationalism” by the developing countries – exporters of raw materials and fuel. History of “resource nationalism” provides a useful lesson for Russia whose economy is features by growing dependency on resources.

Keywords: raw material resources, the oil industry, “the resource curse”, “resource nationalism”, economic dependency, colonialism, institutes, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Iran, Iraq

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For citation:
Shmat V. The Resource Curse: Lessons of the Third World. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2015, no. 1, pp. 28-39.

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