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CEP discussion paper
Leader Behavior and the Natural Resource Curse
Francesco Caselli and Tom Cunningham
March 2009
Paper No' CEPDP0913:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: O11; O13; P26

Tags: natural resource endowment; resource curse; political economy

We discuss political economy mechanisms which can explain the resource curse, in which an increase in the size of resource rents causes a decrease in the economy’s total value added. We identify a number of channels through which resource rents will alter the incentives of a political leader. Some of these induce greater investment by the leader in assets that favour growth (infrastructure, rule of law, etc.), others lead to a potentially catastrophic drop in such activities. As a result, the effect of resource abundance can be highly non-monotonic. We argue that it is critical to understand how resources affect the leader’s 'survival function', i.e. the reduced-form probability of retaining power. We also briefly survey decentralised mechanisms, in which rents induce a reallocation of labour by private agents, crowding out productive activity more than proportionately. We argue that these mechanisms cannot be fully understood without simultaneously studying leader behaviour.