Does Oil Hender Democracy?

Posted by Judson L Moore

The article, Does Oil Hender Democracy, by Michael Ross, examines why the generally excepted theory that economic growth fosters democratic rule fails in countries where the main economic stimulator is from oil production.  The Middle East, Central Asia, and Venezuela share two things in common: they are all major oil-producing countries, and they all have non-democratic regimes.  Ross structures his paper by studying three aspects of the “oil-impedes-democracy” claim.

The first of these aspects is testing whether or not a claim is valid.  For instance, it is difficult to test the validity of a claim when there are no variations upon which to test it.  The example Ross gives us is that of countries in the Middle East that produce few scholars with multiple dependent variables; the dependent variable, of course, being regime type.  In the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, all regimes have been authoritarian since gaining independence.  Since few countries in the Middle East have ever experienced any regime which was not authoritarian, it is difficult to test any theory using regime type as the dependent variable in the Middle East.  Thus, it can be said that other factors determine the regime type, which is not economical. For instance, much of the Middle East is Islamic significantly impacts the region’s culture.

Ross does examine a claim along two dimensions: the first is geographic, and the second is sectoral.  Ten of the 15 countries which are most economically oil-dependent are in the Middle East.  Almost all of these Middle Eastern countries are authoritarian, even the non-oil-producing countries, so we are posed with whether or not oil impedes democracy in just the Middle East, or is it a worldwide phenomenon?  Or does it have more to do with the culture of all the Middle Eastern countries?

The other dimension, the sectoral dimension, looks at other natural resources other than oil in different countries and determines if they have similar effects in countries dependent on them.  Much of the world’s fuel supply is concentrated in the Middle East, but many non-fuel minerals are widely dispersed worldwide.  IT must also be examined whether or not these other minerals have similar effects on hindering democracy or an oil-specific trait.

The final aspect Ross explores is the question of causality.  That is to discover if oil does indeed have anti-democratic effects, what is the inherent cause of that?  Ross tests three possible explanations: First, a “rentier effect,” which is when a resource-dependent country has low to no taxes on its’ citizens so that it can evade responsibility for the people.  Secondly, examining a “Repression effect,” which states resource-wealth slows social and political development by allowing governments to finance security measures instead of social programs.  Thirdly, Ross tests a “modernization effect,” which states that oil production as a primary economic source does not contribute to the social and cultural growth required to maintain for democracy to thrive.

The rest of the article uncovers four things.  First is that the claim that oil ay impedes democracy is valid, and there is plenty of data to support the theory.  Ross finds that oil has a much higher impeding effect in poorer countries than in rich ones.  He also finds that the amount of oil a country may export or import has a significant impact on that state’s democratization.

Second, oil-impedance of democracy is, in fact, not restricted geographically to the Middle East.  Ross believes that oil has also played a factor in sustaining authoritarian regimes in Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and Nigeria.

The third discovery is that non-fuel mineral-rich countries suffer from the same occurrences of democracy hindrance as the oil-rich countries.  This proves the theory that in markets such as these, where the employment base is primarily in the manual-labor field, the possibility of cultural and social development would foster democracy-demanding citizenship.

The fourth and final result of Ross’s study is that there are at least three causes for the oil-impendence property of oil.  They are the rentier effect, a repression effect, and a modernization effect.

This paper complements many of the previously discussed theories of Biox and Stokes, which state that economic development directly affects democratic growth and stability.  Although these oil-rich nations have abundant wealth, the social capital does not exist, and the economic powers are not shared with the citizenship of the state.  Although many resources are being produced, the money stays exclusively amongst a select few and has zero trickle-down to the people.

The fact that Ross studied the anti-democratic effects of non-fuel minerals in other parts of the world was significant.  I think that oil gets so much attention for two reasons; first, almost everyone in the world, especially the first world, uses oil products every day; second, because such a high percentage of oil-producing countries are in the Middle East, these countries can unite as a more significant political force in the world than the other non-fuel mineral countries.  This justifies that the Middle East has greater attention because it can make greater demands and back up actions with stronger alliances.  It is also because of this alliance of Middle Eastern countries that they can carry out their form of government without foreign influence and control the oil price they produce.

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Judson L Moore

Travel addict. Ambitious about making the world a better place. Writing what I learn along the way.

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