Big oil incomes don't help people

Letter to the editor

Posted: Friday, March 05, 2004

Over at the State Library I read an interesting article in The Economist (Dec. 6, 2003), about oil money in Chad, called "Can Oil Ever Help the Poor?"

The authors know oil history well. They say oil "often curses the countries where it is found," especially "in many poor countries, (where) a sudden influx of oil money has proven ruinous."

"Easy money undermines the work ethic. Clever people abandon productive work and start hunting for a share of the petrodollars. Governments are corrupted ... as it is easier to steal unearned wealth ... (and, p)aradoxically, unearned wealth tends to bust budgets ... (because e)veryone thinks the country is richer than it really is, so politicians spend a fortune on pointless prestige projects and citizens clamor for handouts. ... None of the extra spending is cut back during cyclical oil price slumps, so the lucky petro-states end up horribly in debt."

"Oil is capital-intensive but not labour-intensive," The Economist notes, "so few of Chad's own people can benefit directly." But car dealers and "traders, who have quadrupled prices" do OK.

Does this petrodollar history - about Chad, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia - fit Alaska? A dangerous thought.

Alaska solved such thinking. The Economist Dec. 6 edition remained on the shelves because Alaska's State Library stopped its subscription.

Probably just coincidence. But ... see any other parallels here, with African governments unable to live within their Big Oil incomes?

Joe Sonneman

Juneau



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