Natural Resources Are No Guarantee Of Wealth
I don’t know anything about Nigeria, so I found Dayo Olopade’s article on the Nigerian election campaign fascinating. But it’s worth observing that Bill Clinton ought to be smarter than this:
The contrast between potential and performance is fascinating in Nigeria—the fourth-fastest growing economy in the world. Nigeria is a major oil exporter whose sagging infrastructure still requires it to import petroleum for local use. The country expertly polices most of the African continent, in military operations from Sierra Leone to Sudan—yet can’t squash poisonous regional tensions over oil and religion. Visiting Lagos in March, Bill Clinton remarked that “there is no reason why a country with so much resources and potential should be poor.”
This happens all the time. If you take two very similar stable democracies like Norway and Denmark then it’s true that, yes, Norway’s natural resource wealth helps make it richer than Denmark. Similarly, Alaska would be nowhere without oil. But it’s just not the case that natural resource wealth is some kind of ticket to prosperity for poor countries and it’s probably well past time for people to stop being surprised about this. In the particular case of Nigeria, it seems like the fact that controlling the government means you control the oil has contributed to the country’s public sector dysfunction. If you’re running a country with few resources, you really only benefit personally from being in charge if you manage to run the country well. That’s the story of, say, Singapore. Charles Kenny says there’s not really a resource curse but it’s clear that resource miracles are pretty rare.