Commodities - the pitfalls of resource wealth

A note from the editor

Wayne Ellwood

Cycles of history, chains of dependency

Who’s heard of Harold Adams Innis? Put up your hand! Not many, I see. Well, no surprise there. The Canadian academic died in 1952 and his most influential work (on the fur trade and the cod fishery, two prosaic strands of his country’s economic history) was published in the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually, this research became the core of his ‘staples theory’, an analysis of how reliance on raw material exports can shape a country’s economy and its culture.

Dry stuff, I admit. But Innis’s relevance has not faded. Today it just has a different name. The phrase used is ‘resource curse’ and it’s a major source of political conflict, environmental destruction and social dysfunction. In this issue, we try to figure out what it means for those countries and communities caught in the ‘staples trap’.

Elsewhere in the magazine photojournalist Isabella Moore travels to Russia, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers, where she talks to that country’s gay citizens about the fear of living in an increasingly repressive state.

Repression, of course, takes many forms in an era of economic austerity and globe-straddling digital surveillance. (Thank you, Edward Snowden.) What’s a self-respecting government to do without the latest in anti-riot gear and non-lethal ‘crowd control’ solutions? Anna Feigenbaum expounds on the profits to be made in policing dissent.

To paraphrase Aldous Huxley: we don’t learn very much from the lessons of history and that may be the most important lesson of all. Ah, brave new world.

Wayne Ellwood for the New Internationalist co-operative.
www.newint.org

The big story

Demonstrators jostle in the streets of Rangoon, Burma, to protest the expansion of the Chinese-backed Latpadaung copper mine in the country’s northwest province. Thousands of hectares of farmland have been expropriated by the company and hundreds of villagers forced from their homes.

Demonstrators jostle in the streets of Rangoon, Burma, to protest the expansion of the Chinese-backed Latpadaung copper mine in the country’s northwest province. Thousands of hectares of farmland have been expropriated by the company and hundreds of villagers forced from their homes.

Photo: EPA/Alamy

The pitfalls of resource wealth

Natural resource wealth isn't always a blessing. As Wayne Ellwood discovers, sometimes it can be just the opposite.

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Say what you will about the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez; he had chutzpah. What better place to a make a point about Latin America’s colonial inheritance than in front of the world’s media? So it was with a sense of occasion that the smiling Chávez strode across the floor of the Summit of the Americas conference in April 2009 to present US President Barack Obama with a book. And not just any book. It was a copy, in Spanish, of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s 1973 classic, The Open V...




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