The paradox of renter's insurance : resource stabilization funds in Venezuela and Chile

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This report, rooted in the conflict over the control of natural resource wealth, departs from the widely-accepted findings of two disparate literatures. First, while recent analyses correctly conclude that natural resources rents play a contingent role in development, this study deviates from the conventional wisdom attributing the variation of the resource curse to formal institutions. Secondly, as opposed to the recent wave of “political insurance” arguments that ascribe the creation of reforms to weak incumbents attempting to tie the hands of their successors, I argue that actors pursue similar institutional reforms for economic and political reasons. I build on these literatures by examining the commitment to a specific government institution—stabilization funds, which manage the fluctuations of natural resource rents and stop natural resource wealth from being a curse—across three natural resource-rich Latin American countries: Chile, Mexico and Venezuela. Paradoxically, because successful stabilization funds provide greater political benefits when rents are saved, I argue that these institutions only tie the hands of political successors from using rents for political purposes when they are created for economic purposes.