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The Illusory Leader: Natural Resources, Taxation and Accountability

Eoin F. McGuirk, Institute for International Integration Studies, Trinity College Dublin

IIIS Discussion Paper No. 327


This paper proposes and tests a mechanism through which the natural resource curse can operate. I posit that, in the presence of high natural resource rents, leaders lower the burden of taxation on citizens in order to reduce the demand for democratic accountability. The theory is tested using micro-level data from public opinion surveys across 15 sub-Saharan countries, in addition to country-level data on natural resource rents, taxation and election proximity. It is found that an increase in natural resource rents decreases perceived tax enforcement, which in turn reduces the demand for regular, open and honest elections. Results are robust to alternative specifications. A supplementary analysis reveals that, consistent with the two-period model proposed, the effects are more acute closer to national elections. The findings support political-economy explanations of how natural resources affect economies, in which resource rents are purported to influence the decisions of the political elite through increased returns to staying in power.


Democracy; Political Economy; Natural Resources; Curses; Africa


D73, O13, O55


Last updated 28 August 2014 by IIIS (Email).