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Oil to Cash: Fighting the Resource Curse through Cash Transfers
This work has now concluded.
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.
As we’ve shared the idea of Oil to Cash—that a portion of resource revenues be given directly to citizens in a regular, transparent, and universal dividend—we’ve heard a lot of concerns, such as that it’s impractical or that it’ll make people lazy.
Donald Kaberuka, the President of the African Development Bank and the leading voice for forward-leaning economic policy on the continent, has come out publicly in favor of paying some portion of natural resource windfalls as a direct dividend to citizens. We’re pretty excited about this policy idea at CGD, and have been thinking through some of the pros, cons, and practicalities of what we call Oil-to-Cash. Watch this space for our Oil-to-Cash book later in 2014.
When we share the Oil-to-Cash idea with people who are hearing about it for the very first time, the typical response is almost always viscerally negative. (If you aren’t familiar with Oil-to-Cash, here’s the web page and a 4-min jellybeans video.) They usually say “That won’t work because of X” or “Sure, that works in Alaska, but my country Y is very different” or “No, the money would be much better spent on Z”. Often, by the second or third time we talk with people about citizen dividends, however, they start to come around. In a few cases, we’ve even had former skeptics pitching us ideas of how it could work better.
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, 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.
Ghana’s recent recalculation of its GDP led to an overnight $500 per capita jump, putting in motion unexpectedly rapid graduation from the International Development Association (IDA) and ultimately a new relationship with the World Bank. In this week’s Wonkcast, I speak with Todd Moss, vice president for programs and senior fellow at CGD, about his recent trip to the newly categorized lower-middle income country, the implications of IDA graduation, and a sudden influx of oil wealth.
To enhance efficiency of public spending in oil-rich economies, this paper proposes that some of the oil revenues be transferred directly to citizens, and then taxed to finance public expenditures. The argument is that spending that is financed by taxation—rather than by resource revenues accruing directly to the government—is more likely to be scrutinized by citizens and hence subject to greater efficiency.
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.
This is a joint post with Stephanie Majerowicz. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hasn’t appeared in public since his cancer surgery last December and, given his sharply deteriorating health, it seems a safe bet that the country will be having another national election sooner rather than later. When that happens, the opposition will have a rare opportunity outflank the populist Chavistas and offer voters a share in the country’s oil wealth through direct payments of part of the revenue (see the recent WSJ article). Such a program has the twin advantages of being potentially hugely popular and of reducing corruption, strengthening accountability and curbing waste. Here at CGD we call this idea “oil-to-cash.”