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CEP discussion paper

Leader Behavior and the Natural Resource Curse


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.


Francesco Caselli and Tom Cunningham

March 2009     Paper Number CEPDP0913

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This CEP discussion paper is published under the centre's programme.