I have been doing exchange rates with my AS class and we talked about the problems some countries have when they are blessed with natural resources – the resource curse. Africa may have enormous natural reserves of oil, but so far most Africans haven’t felt the benefit. In Nigeria, for instance, what’s seen as a failure to spread the country’s oil wealth to the country’s poorest people has led to violent unrest. However, this economic paradox known as the resource curse has been paramount in Africa’s inability to benefit from oil. This refers to the fact that once countries start to export oil their exchange rate – sometimes know as a petrocurrency – appreciates making other exports uncompetitive and imports cheaper. At the same time there is a gravitation towards the petroleum industry which drains other sectors of the economy, including agriculture and traditional industries, as well as increasing its reliance on imports. Economists also refer to this as the Dutch Disease which makes reference to Holland and the discovery of vast quantities of natural gas during the 1960s in that country’s portion of the North Sea. The subsequent years saw the Dutch manufacturing sector decline as the gas industry developed. The major problem with the reliance on oil is that if the natural resource begins to run out or if there is a downturn in prices, once competitive manufacturing industries find it extremely difficult to return to an environment of profitability.
Venezuela could learn off the Norwegians
Venezuela is home to the world’s largest oil reserves, and its economy has been tied to the ups and downs of the international price of oil for decades — oil constitutes about 25% of the country’s GDP and 95% of its exports. But the country’s oil production reached its lowest point since 2003 this year, when production went from 1.2 million barrels per day in the beginning of 2019 to an average of 830,000 barrels per day. The energy sector is only producing a fraction of the 4 million barrels of oil a day it could be producing.
Norway, the world’s third largest oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, puts away a large share of its wealth in a national pension fund, now worth more than $300 billion. The problem here is that Norway is a small, homogeneous country of about five million people that was relatively advanced when its oil started to flow. It already had the sorts of public institutions that enabled it to cautiously manage its newly found wealth.
In 1969 the discovery of oil off the coast of Norway transformed its economy with it being one of the largest exporters of oil. A lot of countries in similar positions have succumbed to the ‘resource curse’ in which countries tend to focus on a natural resource like oil. The curse comes in two forms:
- With high revenues from the sale of a resource, governments try and seek to control the assets and use the money to maintain a political monopoly. This is where you find that from the sale of your important natural resource there is greater demand for your currency which in turn pushes up its value. This makes other exports less competitive so that when the natural resource runs out the economy has no other good/service to fall back on.
- However it is the fall in commodity prices that is now hitting these countries that have, in the past, been plagued by the resource curse. As a lot of commodities tend to be inelastic in demand so a drop in price means a fall in total revenue since the the proportionate drop in price is greater than the proportionate increase in quantity demanded.
Norway – has a different approach.
In Norway hydrocarbons account for half of its exports and 19% of GDP and with further oil fields coming on tap Norway could earn an estimated $100bn over the next 50 years. Nevertheless there is a need to wean the economy off oil and avoid not only the resource curse that has plagued some countries – Venezuela is a good example as approximately 90% of government spending was dependent on oil revenue – but also the impact on climate change. Norwegians have been smart in that the revenue made from oil has been put into a sovereign wealth fund Its value on 31 December reached 10.9tn kroner, or US$1,311bn – equal to assets worth US$241,000 for each of Norway’s 5.39 million inhabitants. This ensures that they have the means to prepare for life after oil.