I am in Colombia for many reasons. One is to start a big research project. Another is because I like the country. But the main one was to attend a conference on mining put on by the Universidad de los Andes.
El Tiempo reported on the conference. Here is a translation of part of their report:
“In his presentation, Noel Maurer, a professor at Harvard Business School, said ‘there is no curse’ from the resources created by mining discoveries. For him, there is no evidence from any country where either democracy or development has severely deteriorated after an increase in income generated by mining activity.”
That is worded a little more strongly than I would like (you can find some evidence of a resource curse in Nigeria and Zambia, and it is unlikely that the 1997 crisis would have unseated Suharto at a time of high mineral prices) but it does about sum up my opinion. To be fair to El Tiempo, they added my caveat in this tweet.
Lina Holguin of Oxfam-Québec tweeted in response to my caveat, “Congo, Chad and Niger...????” I would answer by saying that while all three countries are poor and unstable, there is no evidence that they would be less poor or less unstable without natural resources ... with an additional caveat that natural resources may have increased violence in particular regions of Congo. Possibly.
El Tiempo also tweeted a few other quotes from yours truly. First: “The decrease in Venezuelan democracy started before the oil boom.” Second, a somewhat misquoted, “No resource boom has affected countries rich in resources.” (I am mildly unhappy with that one: my argument was only about democratic stability.) Third: “Colombia ought to avoid wasting the current mining boom.”
While my discussion was about democracy, that last quote is correct: lots of countries have blown resource booms, leaving them no better off than they entered. Colombia should avoid that. Of course, that is something easier said than done!
Finally, let me end by presenting the (weak) evidence for a resource curse in Zambia.The red line measures the country’s Polity score, a commonly-accepted measure of democracy. The blue line measures the government’s real direct income from the copper industry; the green line measures the percentage of government revenues from copper.
Zambia’s polity score dropped precipitously between 1968 and 1972, while copper revenues boomed. The country then democratized in 1991, after a period of prolonged low copper prices. The argument would be that copper revenues made it easier for Kaunda to establish a one-party state, while the period of low prices was essential to see the fall of that state.
The rub, of course, is that lots of countries in Africa followed the same trend around the same time. (See the below chart.) But you cannot rule out a curse for Zambia.