Why Resource-based Economies Need Tariffs

by John Brian Shannon

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and Professor at Columbia University has noted the problems inherent to resource-based economies in his recent and excellent article; “From Resource Curse to Blessing” which I urge you to read. Early into his piece, he says;

“On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources. They have grown more slowly, and with greater inequality – just the opposite of what one would expect.” — Stiglitz

The usual solution to the inevitable slowing of a resource-based economy is to facilitate ever more extraction — in the hopes that more resource dollars will stimulate growth and compensate for the lack of progress in other sectors.

Time and time again this fails to work and to make matters worse, other sectors of the economy grow weaker in almost direct correlation with mounting resource exports. Manufacturing often takes the greatest hit.

Moreover, resource-rich countries often do not pursue sustainable growth strategies. They fail to recognize that if they do not reinvest their resource wealth into productive investments above ground, they are actually becoming poorer. Political dysfunction exacerbates the problem, as conflict over access to resource rents gives rise to corrupt and undemocratic governments. — Stiglitz

The government line on this is usually; “We should concentrate on what we do best.” Which is fine except that in so doing, the rest of the economy slowly slips toward the day when the government must then announce; ‘The majority of the resources are gone, we now must rebuild our economy from scratch.” This is when economists are finally consulted and listened to — but are then expected to solve the entire problem by the weekend, with nothing more than a magic wand and an algebraic/transcendental incantation.

Resource-based economies should commit to robust and long-term economic development throughout the economy well before such cantrip is required.

Real development requires exploring all possible linkages: training local workers, developing small and medium-size enterprises to provide inputs for mining operations and oil and gas companies, domestic processing, and integrating the natural resources into the country’s economic structure. Of course, today, these countries may not have a comparative advantage in many of these activities, and some will argue that countries should stick to their strengths. From this perspective, these countries’ comparative advantage is having other countries exploit their resources.

That is wrong. What matters is dynamic comparative advantage, or comparative advantage in the long run, which can be shaped. Forty years ago, South Korea had a comparative advantage in growing rice. Had it stuck to that strength, it would not be the industrial giant that it is today. It might be the world’s most efficient rice grower, but it would still be poor. — Stiglitz

The problem of course, is how to fund the necessary investment in the non-resource economy. And what level of funding do non-resource sectors enjoy at the present? Less than you might imagine.

Of all solutions, the simplest usually work best. Which is why a nominal export tax is a necessary ingredient to any resource-based economy to assist the national economy maintain a quantitative balance.

After all, taxing natural resources at high rates will not cause them to disappear, which means that countries whose major source of revenue is natural resources can use them to finance education, health care, development, and redistribution. — Stiglitz

There is little need for domestic resource taxes in nations where the majority of resources are exported. Such ‘recycling’ of citizen’s money adds little ‘new money’ to the economy and irritates voters, while the most efficient economic performance enhancement available comes from export tariffs and FDI.

Both export tariffs and FDI revenue streams represent new money entering the system which means unlike domestic taxation, citizens are not paying for other citizens employment programs — foreign interests will be paying that bill.

When resource-based economies implement a 5% to 8% export tariff on every exported tonne of coal/metals/minerals, or barrel of oil, their economies will fire on all cylinders — and with little complaint from the rapidly growing and resource-hungry nations.

John Brian Shannon

2 thoughts on “Why Resource-based Economies Need Tariffs

Send us your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s