American Political Science Review

Research Article

Do Natural Resources Fuel Authoritarianism? A Reappraisal of the Resource Curse


a1 Stanford University

a2 University of Washington


A large body of scholarship finds a negative relationship between natural resources and democracy. Extant cross-country regressions, however, assume random effects and are run on panel datasets with relatively short time dimensions. Because natural resource reliance is not an exogenous variable, this is not an effective strategy for uncovering causal relationships. Numerous sources of bias may be driving the results, the most serious of which is omitted variable bias induced by unobserved country-specific and time-invariant heterogeneity. To address these problems, we develop unique historical datasets, employ time-series centric techniques, and operationalize explicitly specified counterfactuals. We test to see if there is a long-run relationship between resource reliance and regime type within countries over time, both on a country-by-country basis and across several different panels. We find that increases in resource reliance are not associated with authoritarianism. In fact, in many specifications we generate results that suggest a resource blessing.


Research support was provided by the Stanford University President's Fund for Innovation in International Studies, the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, and the Hoover Institution, where Menaldo was a National Fellow in 2009–10. Able research assistance was provided by Aaron Berg, Ishan Bhadkamkar, Nicole Bonoff, Roy Elis, Pamela Evers, Andrew Hall, Joanna Hansen, Meryl Holt, Sin Jae Kim, Gabriel Kohan, Ruth Levine, José Armando Perez-Gea, Aaron Polhamus, Diane Raub, Jennifer Romanek, Eric Showen, Daniel Slate, Anne Sweigart, Ardalan Tajalli, Hamilton Ulmer, Noemi Walzebuck, Scott Wilson, and Aram Zinzalian. Special thanks go to Nikki Velasco, who kept the research team working smoothly. Michael Herb and Thad Dunning generously shared their insights on data sources and methods with us. Earlier drafts of this article were presented at the Yale University Workshop on Political Economy, the Conference of the American Economics Association, the Harvard University Conference on Latin American Economic History, the Stanford Social Science History Workshop, the Stanford Workshop in Comparative Politics, the Caltech Workshop in Social Science History, the Colegio de México, the Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración, and the National Bureau of Economic Research Workshop in Political Economy. We thank Ran Abramitzky, Thomas Brambor, Roy Elis, James Fearon, Jeff Frieden, Miriam Golden, Avner Greif, Tim Guinnane, Michael Herb, Scott Kieff, David Laitin, Pauline Jones-Luong, Naomi Lamoreaux, Ross Levine, Noel Maurer, Francisco Monaldi, Elias Papaioannou, Armando Razo, Michael Ross, Paul Sniderman, William Summerhill, Ragnar Torvik, Dan Treisman, Nikki Velasco, Romain Wacziarg, and Gavin Wright, as well as three anonymous referees, for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.