Working Paper n°2017-14 – A critical survey of the resource curse literature through the appropriability lens


Mehrdad Vahabi, CEPN, UMR-CNRS 7234, Université Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris Cité –


There is a vast literature and several surveys on the economic and political resource curse. However, the surveys often fail to capture two points: 1) they disregard the relationship between this recent literature and the staple theory and the staple trap; 2) the appropriability issue has only been treated tangentially and has never been the focus of any survey. The present work fills these gaps. This paper shows that the political resource curse approach initially focused on the appropriability issue through the lens of ‘looting’ behavior of rebels and distinguished ‘lootable’ and ‘unlootable’ goods. However, lootability casts light on mobility of resources or resistance to appropriation rather than state appropriability. Borrowing upon Baldwin’s distinction between ‘point-source’ and ‘diffuse’ resources, the resource curse literature has recently suggested that state appropriability is related to pointy-resources. The resource curse/blessing assumes that the technical dimension of appropriability and mobility (geographical or purely physical qualities) plays primary role whereas institutional dimensions are either absent or play a secondary role. An alternative approach gives pride of place to the institutional dimension: the same agricultural product such as cereals or coffee can be appropriable or not depending on the institutional structure. Finally, while the literature suffers from a confusion between mobility and appropriability, its relevance in enhancing an appropriative perspective of the state will be underlined.

Keywords: Captive and fugitive assets, Lootable goods, Natural resource curse, Pointy versus diffuse resources, Predatory state, Staple theory

JEL Codes: H1, H4, O1, Q1

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