Oil And Democracy, Continued: Echoes

Timothy Lavin writes editorials on politics, economics, taxation and defense for Bloomberg View. He was a senior editor at the Atlantic.
Read More.
a | A

Most of the world's oil is produced in states that are undemocratic. The U.S., Canada and Norway are the exceptions (see chart).

So does oil inhibit democracy? This is perhaps the central question of our discussion this week about the historical lessons the Arab Spring nations should pay attention to.

Michael L. Ross, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been researching this issue for a decade. In a 2001 paper, and in updated research in 2009, Ross argues that oil wealth deeply impedes democratic transitions from authoritarian states.

He also found that the undemocratic effects of oil vary by region and have fluctuated between 1960 and 2002. The one causal mechanism for the "oil-autocracy link," Ross wrote in 2009, was the "rentier effect," in which oil states use low taxes and high spending to quell democratic pressures.

To reverse these undemocratic effects, oil states need revenue transparency and institutions accountable to the public -- as we discussed May 23.

(Katherine Brown is a researcher at Bloomberg View. The opinions expressed are her own. Ilan Kolet, who created this graphic, is a data editor at Bloomberg News. For more posts at the Echoes blog, visit bloomberg.com/view/echoes.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author of this story:
Timothy Lavin at tlavin1@bloomberg.net