Resources: conflicting reports

Understanding natural resources as a driver of economic development has gone through great change over the last three decades. Until the 1980’s economists generally saw an abundance of resources as an advantage but in the following decade new scholarship developed the concept of a ‘natural resource curse’ which linked slower growth, violent civil conflict and undemocratic regimes. This gave rise to phrases such as ‘greed versus grievance’ and ‘lootability’ which reflected the motivation behind the use of violence to gain control of resources.

Sachs and Warner (1997) concentrated on the relationship between resources and economic growth, while Collier and Hoeffler (1998) showed that resources had an impact on some types of war and not others while also looking at other measures of resource wealth.

More recently Brunnschweiler and Bulte (2009) have dismissed the ‘resource curse’, having found no strong relationship between resource abundance and the onset of conflict and head off in the opposite direction: ‘resource wealth, via an income effect, lowers the probability of conflict, and especially of the onset of a major conflict. Moreover, we find no evidence of an across-the-board link running from resource dependence to civil war’.  

Other recent research suggests that cyclical climatic changes like El Nino double the risk of civil war, with analysis showing that a sizeable proportion of conflicts between 1950 and 2004 were triggered by the El Nino cycle.  

Meanwhile Homer-Dixon pioneered ‘resource scarcity’ as a driver of violent conflict, noting how powerless groups got elbowed aside by an elite in a dog-eat-dog struggle while social and economic innovation receded. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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