Public Choice

, Volume 175, Issue 3–4, pp 393–428 | Cite as

The resource curse literature as seen through the appropriability lens: a critical survey

  • Mehrdad Vahabi
Literature survey


This critical survey demonstrates for the first time that the underlying tenets of the resource curse/blessing are borrowed directly from “staple theory”. It also focuses uniquely on appropriability with two key issues in mind: (1) state appropriability of assets, and (2) the mobility of assets to thwart appropriation. In the previous resource curse literature, mobility has been framed using the concept of lootability. Appropriability is related to non-lootable assets, such as oil, that can be seized by the state or rival private oligarchs. Recent resource curse research has addressed appropriability by distinguishing between point-source resources and diffuse-source resources. This survey demonstrates that this distinction is borrowed from staple theory, and that point-source and diffuse-source resources are defined in terms of geographical concentration/dispersion rather than institutional characteristics. By establishing that political institutions, markets and incentives are the most important elements for determining appropriability, the resource curse/blessing literature could support a general positive theory of the predatory state.


Captive and fugitive assets Lootable goods Natural resource curse Point-source and diffuse-source resources Predatory state Staple theory 

JEL Classification

H1 H4 O1 Q1 



I wholeheartedly thank my four anonymous referees, the associate editor Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, and the editor-in-chief William Shughart of the Public Choice journal for their excellent and constructive comments. I would also like to present my gratitude to Bertrand Crettez, Alain Desdoigts, Antonio Savoia, Kunal Sen, Tarik Tazdait and Mandana Vahabi for their inspiring and insightful remarks on earlier versions of this paper. Obviously, all the remaining errors are mine.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Paris 13, CEPNParisFrance

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