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Surviving the resource curse

If Kazakhstan's success in making the transition from Soviet planned economy to free market is anything to go by, it has a better chance than many oil-rich economies of successfully harnessing its wealth.

Black gold (oil) is the devil's excrement to some.

IN THE 1970s, Venezuelan oil minister Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso put the dubious advantages of large oil reserves in colourful terms. The mineral was, he said, "the devil's excrement". Kazakhstan, which has bigger reserves than Kuwait and ambitions to be the world's fifth-largest oil exporter by 2025, is up to its neck in the stuff. Black gold, of course, is the cliché more commonly applied to the highly prized commodity which, if properly exploited, can transform the economic and social fortunes of a country.

The challenge facing Kazakhstan, which is ranked number six globally in terms of mineralization, is how to avoid the fate of the less-favoured oil producers. In Iraq, Nigeria and Venezuela, for example, a toxic combination of political strife and widespread corruption has meant that the general population faces falling rather than rising standards of living.

Xavier Sala-i-Martin, professor of economics at Columbia University, noted in a recent report: "Based on evidence from a cross-section of countries, natural resources such as oil and minerals do seem to be a curse rather than a blessing, as they impose a heavy drag on long-run economic growth.

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