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Oil to Cash: Fighting the Resource Curse through Cash Transfers
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Natural resources and the income they generate can stifle development by undermining the relationship between citizens and their state. In a series of papers and a book, CGD’s Todd Moss proposed oil-to-cash—direct distribution of resource revenues—to encourage a “social contract” in resource-rich countries. The income generated by resource extraction can be distributed directly to citizens and then taxed by governments. With a personal stake in the government’s budget, the citizens could then hold the government accountable for providing goods and services with their taxes.
One of the nearest real-world examples of Oil-to-Cash is Alaska, which has paid an annual dividend to every state resident since 1982. One of the presumptive lessons drawn from Alaska’s experience has been that once a dividend was in place, political forces aligned to protect it from politicians. Yet last week, Alaska Governor Bill Walker announced the first-ever cut to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
The President of Gabon, a small petro-state wedged between Cameroon and Congo, has announced that he’s giving some of his inheritance back “to the people of Gabon.” It’s a good start, but surely he can do better.
India is getting some serious cash from coal. According to official estimates, the government will get nearly $250 billion in revenues over a period of 30 years from the sale of over two hundred coal blocks to private bidders. Given India’s record of corruption and mismanagement of natural resources, it is difficult to be optimistic that it will be able to cash in on this windfall and use it for development. But there are a few silver linings that may prove us (happily) wrong.
Todd Moss, Caroline Lambert, and Stephanie Majerowicz offer a well-argued explanation of how oil-to-cash transfers could help countries overcome the corruption, economic volatility, and lack of government accountability that too often plague countries with rich resources but weak institutions.
At first glance, winning the lottery seems like a momentous stroke of good fortune. Money is often what people — especially poor people — need to get back on their feet and make a new start. Unfortunately, it’s often the people who need the money most who, even with the best intentions, end up mismanaging their newfound wealth until they end up worse off than they were before.
Todd Moss proposes that countries seeking to manage new natural resource wealth should consider distributing income directly to citizens as cash transfers. Beyond serving as a powerful and proven policy intervention, cash transfers may also mitigate the corrosive effect natural resource revenue often has on governance.
CGD vice president and senior fellow Todd Moss and reasearch assistant Lauren Young propose direct cash distribution of Ghana's oil profits to help the country avoid the natural resource curse. One positive effect of the plan would be to strenghten democratic pressure on the government to be good stewards of the resource.
Reliance on natural resource revenues, particularly oil, is often associated with bad governance, corruption, and poverty. Worried about the effect of oil on Alaska, Governor Jay Hammond had a simple yet revolutionary idea: let citizens have a direct stake. Thirty years later, Hammond’s vision is still influencing oil policies throughout the world.
Uganda has sought to finance its development agenda with oil since discovering the resource in its Albertine Lakes Basin in 2009. This paper considers alternative methods for distributing the rents from oil that mitigate some of the governance risks associated with natural resource revenues.
This paper surveys the arguments for and against cash-transfer programs in resource-rich states, discusses some of the new biometric identification technologies, and reaches preliminary conclusions about their potentially very large benefits for developing countries.