With oil prices being at historically low levels, oil exporting countries have been struggling to generate the revenue that was once apparent not so long ago. In Venezuela, for instance, oil accounts for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and plummeting world prices have severely hit the government’s revenue stream. The Middle Eastern countries with their abundant supply of oil and the ease at which it extracts it, are starting to look at alternative revenue streams as the rent from oil is no longer sufficient to sustain public goods and services. As noted in The Economist the Arab world can be divided into three broad categories:
- Resource-rich, labour-poor – Gulf sheikhdoms with lots of oil and gas but few people;
- Resource-rich, labour-abundant – Algeria and Iraq, that have natural resources and larger populations;
- Resource-poor, labour-abundant – Egypt, that have little or no oil and gas but lots of mouths to feed (see chart).
To a degree the whole Arab world is an oil-driven economy: all three groups tend to rise and fall with the price of oil. However although some countries have significant reserves of wealth this does not offer an alternative to weaning them off their dependence on the oil industry. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 intends to be free of oil dependence by 2020 and among the proposals is a plan to launch a new defence company, combining Saudi industries under a single company and be floated on the Saudi Stock Exchange.
The country plans to list less than 5 per cent of Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Co), which is worth more than US$2 trillion. The sale of Armco would be big enough to buy Apple Inc., Google parent Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. – the world’s four largest publicly traded companies. The plan is for the government to be a lot more prudent in its spending and making sure that the budget deficit doesn’t exceed 15% of GDP which is a very high figure. Furthermore using the private sector to provide education and health care as well as selling valuable land to developers, will reduce the burden of the State. But this will bring about significant social change that the population of Saudi Arabia may not be prepared for. As The Economist said:
A generation of men that expected to be paid for do-nothing government jobs will have to learn to work. The talents of women, who already make up the majority of new university graduates, will have to be harnessed better. But for now even the limited reforms to give women more opportunities have gone into reverse. To achieve its goals, Saudi Arabia will have to promote transparency and international norms, which will mean overcoming resistance from the powerful religious establishment and the sprawling royal family.
Source: The Economist – May 14th 2016
For most economies that have natural endowments like oil (Saudi Arabia) or minerals, there is the risk of the economy experiencing the ‘resource curse’. This is when a natural resource begins to run out, or if there is a downturn in price, manufacturing industries that used to be competitive find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability. According to Paul Collier, Nigeria has a resource curse of its own, the civil war trapin which 73% of the low income population have been affected by it, as well as a natural resource trap- where the so-called advantages of a commodity in monetary value did not eventuate – on average affecting only 30% of the low income population. It seems that in Nigeria there is a strong relationship between resource wealth and poor economic performance, poor governance and the prospect of civil conflicts. The comparative advantage of oil wealth in fact turns out to be a curse. governments and insurgent groups that determines the risk of conflict, not the ethnic or religious diversity. Others see oil as a “resource curse” due to the fact that it reduces the desire for democracy.
Click here for more on the Resource Curse from this blog