My work on natural resource politics aims to move beyond the ‘resource curse’ approach in understanding the vital role of natural resources in development in the context of low and middle-income countries. I am interested in exploring under what conditions resource abundance can produce equitable growth in developing countries, and subsequently, whether the eclipse of neoliberal orthodoxy is paving way for new models of national development based on a stronger, more active role for states in economic governance. My latest contribution to this area coheres around the ideas presented in Resource Governance and Developmental States in the Global South, where we analysed the variegated consequences of neoliberalism in resource management in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
I am finishing a book entitled Resource Developmentalism: Post-neoliberal Experiments in Brazil and Chile, which takes political institutions as the central variable explaining how and to what extent states can develop policies to overcome the in-built bias towards regressivity inherent in natural resource-intensive economies. Within political science, there are mechanisms that facilitate the ‘resource curse’, notably the weakness of institutions to withstand rent-seeking of interest groups and some factions of the state bureaucracy. Subsequently, market-driven reforms have pre-determined the role of states in terms of regulating market failures and providing a solid regulatory framework in a sector characterised by high risk and heavy sunk costs. Beyond institutional design, however, development policies tend to produce unintended consequences, and these are mediated by political economy dynamics, which are embedded in political conflicts within domestic settings. By political economy dynamics, I refer to sector-specific pressures that determine the type of economic reforms to be implemented by national elites. The book examines two types of reforms: (a) the regulatory framework to extract and produce natural resources as well as the generation and allocation of resource wealth for productive investment; and (b) corporate governance reforms to manage SOE performance and political conflicts between state managers and organised labour. The key argument here is that developmental capacities in monitoring, regulating, and creating new comparative advantages through the natural resource sector emanate from state coordination and policy negotiations among key political and economic actors. Theoretically, the success of negotiating sectoral reforms are contingent upon how state elites elicit support from domestic and multinational capital and organised labour, which are historically path dependent and incremental by nature.
In my next project, I probe into the political and institutional underpinnings of natural resource governance, whereby I explore the conditions upon which states can formulate extractive bargains with multinational/domestic capital and the citizenry. The empirical cases are drawn from Latin America and Southeast Asia, although I have developed some interests to compare state-building and extractive orders with other regions. This has given rise to several research collaborations with various academics in the UK, Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe.