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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009



Oil and other natural resources, many political scientists have argued, promote autocracy. In support of this claim, analysts have presented an impressive range of evidence, from case studies of resource-rich countries in the Persian Gulf and Africa to regression analyses of global time-series cross-section data. However, this valuable research has not elucidated a range of apparent anomalies to the authoritarian “resource curse.” Botswana, Norway, and other resource-rich (though not necessarily resource-dependent) democracies such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States appear to pose not just anomalies to the idea of an unconditional authoritarian resource curse, but also a fundamental challenge to the idea that resources must promote autocracy. Nor has the claim that resources promote autocracy been reconciled with the claim of many country experts that resource rents have promoted democracy in Venezuela. As I have shown in this study, the range of cases in which resources have very plausibly had a democratic effect is much broader than suggested by previous comparative studies: Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador, for instance, may be added to the list.

I have argued here that the list of countries that have escaped the authoritarian resource curse is not merely idiosyncratic. Variation in the political effects of resource rents instead reflects structural factors that are systematic and, at least in part, explicable on the basis of theory.