The Promise – and Pitfalls – of State-led Development in Resource-rich Countries: Resource Nationalism in Latin America and Beyond

miningThe eclipse of neoliberalism in 2000s coincided with the so-called commodity ‘super cycle’ that lasted between 2002 and 2012. In search of a new model, resource-rich states began to articulate resource nationalism as a development strategy. While ownership and control of minerals and hydrocarbons are intricately tied to claims of state sovereignty and exercise of political authority in development policy, resource nationalism can also be understood in terms of a power struggle between host states and global hegemons in their quest to secure resources for their own industrial needs. Hence, contemporary natural resource governance is reflective of the wider ideological return of the state despite two decades of reforms promoting market liberalization and privatization. Resource nationalism is a vital expression of the renewal of state agency amidst high external constraints imposed upon resource-rich countries.

Resource Nationalism as a State-led Development Strategy

It is not a coincidence that resource nationalism returned in mainstream political debates at the same time as emerging powers designed new industrial policies aimed at recalibrating state-market relations in favour of the former. With extraordinary high prices and rising demands for natural resources from China, domestic political configurations in resource economies appear to move towards reforms aimed at (1) capturing and maximising windfall profits amidst a boom, (2) extending the role of state in commodity production through a renewed role for state-owned enterprises, and (3) renegotiating the terms of contracts with multinational mining capital.

These policies are emblematic of a wider trend: the growing importance of state stewardship for industrial transformation in an era of cross-border production networks governed by global lead firms. Despite the rhetoric on economic globalization, the role of the state remains prevalent as observed in the number of state-owned enterprises, the significant expenditure on industrial policy, and the array of government-business partnerships in East Asia and beyond. State interventions are reconfigured not simply to reinforce the residual statist tendencies, but to actively construct new comparative advantages and build strong ties with economic elites who can compete in a globalized international economy. Perhaps, more importantly, political elites are forging new social contracts with ordinary citizens to enhance the legitimacy of the state, whether in terms of actively supporting social welfare programmes (as in the case of many conditional cash transfers in Latin America), or by creating new avenues to engage with marginalised groups (for example, through participatory institutions and FPIC process).

Amidst the resource bonanza, development plans were set in motion centred around the exploitation of natural resources. For example, Brazil launched a programme focussed on heavy investments in the capital goods sector, notably in oil, gas and ship-building industries.

Several Latin American countries also introduced new royalty fees and export taxes aimed at capitalising on high prices. Table 1 details the increasing role of natural resource rents in state revenues over the past twenty years.

Table 1: Public Revenues from non-renewable natural resources in percentages of GDP

Screenshot 2020-03-24 at 09.33.07

Alongside attempts at adding value in mining and hydrocarbons, Latin American governments faced redistributive pressures from their political base. ‘Compensatory states’ justified their resource extraction strategy as a necessary step for further income distribution and revitalization of manufacturing. While political citizenship in post-neoliberal Latin America is increasingly defined by redistributive politics, it also emphasised recognition and identity politics as a central feature of a contentious state-society relationship.

The Limits of the Resource Bonanza

It is now a widely held view that the Left-of-Centre governments successfully reduced poverty and extreme poverty (see Table 2), and although slow, inequality has begun to taper off (Figure 1). However, the data also confirm the fragility of the social achievements of Latin American governments – as the bonanza ended, so did the gains from poverty reduction. This points to several important shortcomings of resource-based strategies.

Figure 1 Gini Inequality Index in Latin America, 2002-2018

Screenshot 2020-03-24 at 09.29.28Source: CEPAL 2019

Most conspicuously, poverty gains may have created a trade off in making vital investments in the productive economy. Finite domestic revenues have been subject to immense political competition for rent-seeking, and without a coherent industrial strategy, an export-led growth model based on commodities are likely to be fragile and is vulnerable from price swings.

This, then, leads to a gloomy conclusion. Resource-rich states, without the institutional capacity to design a productivist strategy to diversify their export base and to set out an ambitious multi-year development plan to upgrade their industrial sectors, are likely to suffer from the vicissitudes of international commodity markets. At worst, those without political consensus over governance – Venezuela under Maduro being the emblematic case – are likely to waste the opportunities for development through their strategic mining sectors. The broader lesson, I suspect, is that institutional preconditions and pro-industrial policy coalitions are central to the success of developing countries advancing new strategies in an increasingly globalized international economy. Crucially, whenever crisis and uncertainty appear, the state as a stabilizing force becomes more prescient than ever.

Table 2: Poverty and Extreme Poverty in 18 Latin American Countries, 2002-2019 (in percentages)

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Jewellord (Jojo) Nem Singh is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Science, Leiden University working on the political economy of development and democracy in Latin America and East Asia. He tweets at @jnemsingh.

Mexico: Between Financial Exclusion and the Predominance of Banks too Big to Fail 


Money Cash Wealth Tickets Weights Bank Mexico
Photo: Max Pixel.

In his acclaimed poem “America” from 1956, Allen Ginsberg warned about the new vices of American society. Beyond the clear demonization of communist ideals, the star of the beat generation warned about the growing influence of the media on the thinking of individuals.

With globalization, the commodity fetishism disguised as the American dream entered not only the minds of the citizens of the United States but the rest of the globe. In addition, with the financialization of the economy, the debt culture also surpassed the American borders, reaching the countries of the Global South.

There is no day when the media does not bombard us with advertisements that promote a consumer culture, inciting us to acquire goods that we cannot afford with our income. This is where credit plays the role of a “savior entity” through which we can satisfy our deepest desires. However, unlike the developed countries, which have high levels of access to financial services, the underdeveloped countries are subject to a subordinated financialization that limits the possibilities of households and non-financial companies of acquiring a loan and, consequently, complicates the satisfaction of our consumerist spirit and the development of the productive sphere. The notion of subordinated financialization was first proposed by Jeff Powell (2013) to designate the specific way in which financialization manifests itself in underdeveloped economies. The level of access to financial services that a country has is known as financial inclusion, however, in the case of Mexico, this level is so low that we are facing financial exclusion.Read More »

Economic Development in the 21st Century: A Review


by Ramiro Eugenio Álvarez (University of Siena) and Santiago José Gahn (Roma Tre University)

What drives economic development? What is the nature of the external constraints that developing economies face? What is the role of industrial policy and the central banks in the development process? These were the core questions that were posed in the recent webinar series on Development in the 21st Century, organized by the Economic Development working group of the Young Scholars Initiative (YSI). These four meetings were particularly oriented towards examining notions such as distribution, patterns of specialization, industrial policies and balance of payment constraints. The discussion of such phenomena is especially important in a context of deep academic divides regarding the drivers of economic development.

Following the tradition of the Latin American structuralist school, the meetings placed special emphasis on the inherent challenges of conditions associated with being in the periphery when the problem of development is faced. During the meetings, processes of economic integration that perpetuate asymmetric economic relations of the center-periphery type were examined, as well as the role played by public institutions, e.g. central banks, in the development of industrial economies.Read More »

Currency crisis in Argentina or the IMF’s tango


By Roberto Lampa and Nicolás Hernán Zeolla

The Argentinian government has requested financial assistance from the IMF to tackle the consequences of a serious currency crisis. Last Wednesday, the government emphatically announced the new terms of such an agreement. However, unpacking the terms of those agreements and the current situation reveals serious concerns about the country’s future .

A few months back (see here), we provided an analysis of the current Argentinian crisis, highlighting the excessive vulnerability of the economy produced by the abrupt financial deregulation carried out by Macri’s administration. Three aspects in particular threatened the country’s future prospects: the deregulation of foreign exchange that failed to stop capital flight, a boom in foreign debt (at a record level among emerging market economies) and the promotion of speculative capital inflows to carry trade (buying financial instruments issued by the Central Bank called LEBAC in order to pursue carry trade operations).

When international conditions worsened and the carry trade circuit came to an end, the “LEBAC bubble” exploded and produced a tremendous foreign exchange crisis that shook the Argentine economy, causing a sharp rise in inflation and a severe recession from which the country has not yet managed to escape. Read More »

Brazil’s Election in the Shadow of the Impeachment


Earlier this month the final deadline arrived for political parties in Brazil to register their candidates for the presidential election in October 2018. The official launch of candidates allows us to discuss more concretely the political forces and players that will be shaping the election. It means that coalitions, alliances, and vice-president choices have taken place. So we asked, what can be said about the first candidates leading the polls? What are the main political forces underlying this election?

The Brazilian political landscape has been extremely polarised since the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. If the left-right dichotomy has recently been considered blurry or outdated, in Brazil one can argue that, due to the impeachment, this dichotomy has a new face, with the coup winners on one extreme and the coup losers on the other.

The nuances between right and left on the political spectrum have largely been overshadowed due to this dichotomy, with one side leading a moral crusade for a clean and corruption-free country and the other side highlighting the ongoing attack on democracy. The political mayhem reached its peak with Lula’s trial and conviction in April, which has led to a great deal of uncertainty over this period (see recent Lula’s Op-Ed from prison in the NYT).

President Termer may have been able to “keep the markets calm in” throughout such political instability, but Brazil’s economic recovery has been weaker than expected, hardships for many families have increased (see IBGE indicators for increases in income inequality, poverty, unemployment and insecurity) and the country has just set a new record for homicides at 63,880 deaths in 2017, with violence against women also increasing. There is a lot at stake in this election.Read More »

The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria: European and Latin American Experiences


Book review of N. Levy-Orlik & E Ortiz (2016), The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria: European and Latin American Experiences, Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham UK

Levy and Ortiz’s The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria is a timely book. It critiques mainstream economic theory and its limitations in explaining how economic conditions change or the transition from one state of equilibrium to another. Its analyses rely on Keynes, Kalecki, Kaldor, Minsky, Prebish, Furtado, and Marxists such as Luxemburg, Marini and Lapavitsas. Macroeconomic teachers interested in a heterodox approach may benefit from Levy and Ortiz’s book as complementary material with experiences showing the dysfunctionality of the global economy from the specific prism of financial disequilibria.

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Can Latin America Learn from Europe’s Mistakes? Divergence in Regional Economic Integration

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By Collin Constantine (Kingston University) and Johanna Renz (University of Oxford)

A powerful core and a powerless periphery – these are features of the European Monetary Union (EMU). The union has gone much further than Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in its integration efforts and has suffered from a severe economic crisis. Since LAC’s economic integration is still ongoing, it can and should learn from the EMU’s mistakes before it is too late.

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Is Development Possible In Capitalism?

By Douglas McDonald [re-blog from NSER]

Last Friday was the Debating Development conference, organized by the titular scholars of INET’s Young Scholars Initiative, a group coordinated by NSSR’s own Ingrid Kvangraven. The conference put many scholars of different regions and different theoretical perspectives in conversation. Although it was titled “debating development,” as NSSR economics professor Sanjay Reddy noted in his opening remarks, most of the perspectives presented were more intersecting than mutually exclusive, so the conference could also be understood as a means to compound or complexify perspectives, rather than adopt or discard them.

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