New York Times writer Martina Ottaway wrote that “oil and democracy do not mix.” She’s not the only one to have made the observation that most of the top ten oil-rich countries – which include Kuwait, Mexico, Brazil, Iran and Russia - are not exactly models of democracy and freedom. Nor are they, as you might expect, pastures of peace and plenty for all their citizens. The wealth that pours into nations rich in natural resources, like petroleum, tends to concentrate among the few and the powerful, rather than lifting the entire population out of poverty.
According to Michael Ross’ new book, for many countries, oil wealth can hinder democracy, inflate government budgets and stifle other industries. The resulting political, economic and societal volatility can lead a country to erupt in civil war. Yet some nations – Norway among them – have managed to avoid the so-called “oil curse” – to the benefit of all its citizens.
How did they do it? Does an abundance of oil mean an abundance of riches – and headaches? How can a nation capitalize on its natural resources without wreaking havoc within its own borders? Is the “oil curse” inevitable?
Michael Ross, author of “The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations” (Princeton); Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)