What makes you rich needn’t make you better

Jaithirth Rao in The Indian Express:

“Oil has been at best a mixed blessing for its possessors. Consider Venezuela, once a shining democracy true to Betancourt’s legacy, an economy on the make, a net exporter of rice till the ‘60s. The oil bonanza has made them a country that imports everything and encourages profligate, even bizarre, governments.

“Consider Nigeria. Under Tafawa Balewa it was moving to become a shining exemplar for Africa. But then, oil struck. Without oil there would have been no ghastly Biafran war, there would not have been the enormous corruption that is endemic to rentier societies, there would not be the anarchy that now passes for a country.

“Consider Iran, or Persia, if you will. Without oil there would have been no meddling by the Anglo-American Oil Syndicate, Mossadegh would not have been overthrown by the CIA, a megalomaniacal Reza Shah would not have started a nuclear programme with the support of President Nixon, a programme that now President Bush would love to shut down, there might not even have been an Islamist dispensation and Iranian women might have made steady progress towards freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

“One could also speculate whether, without oil, maximalist positions would have been abandoned by the Arab side and a more stable peace with Israel would have been worked out. Without oil, the world would certainly not have seen the ubiquitous spread of Wahhabism across the globe. Maybe a gentler Sufi persuasion would have prevailed. Without oil Saddam would not have survived so long and there would almost certainly not have been a US intervention there.”

Read the full column: Those empires of carbon