Oil, Autocratic Survival, and the Gendered Resource Curse: When Inefficient Policy Is Politically Expedient

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Authors Yu-Ming Liou, Paul Musgrave
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Economic development generally promotes women’s autonomy. Yet women in resource-rich autocracies fare more poorly than women in similarly wealthy industrial and postindustrial states. Some attribute this puzzling outcome to cultural causes, describing the apparent link between restrictions on women’s autonomy in resource-rich countries (especially in the Middle East) as spurious. Others argue that oil and gas rents cause a gendered resource curse through macroeconomic mechanisms. By contrast, we explain the association as a consequence of a political mechanism. We propose a theory of autocratic survival via antisocial policies chosen for the harms they inflict on targeted groups. Autocrats need to placate ideologically motivated members of their winning coalition. Antisocial policies serve as a costly and visible measure of rulers’ fidelity to these winning coalition members. Resource rents enable rulers to afford such policies, which would be infeasible in tax-reliant regimes. Restricting women’s autonomy thus forms part of a strategy of autocratic rule in resource-rich autocracies. Using quantitative evidence, we demonstrate that variations in women’s autonomy correlate with variations in oil income per capita in cross-country regressions. To trace variations within cases, we present case studies of Saudi Arabia and Iran to demonstrate processes consonant with our theory.
Date of publication 2016
Code Programming Language R

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