Rents tend to be relatively high in developing countries and also very fungible, so that differences in the scale of the rent and in its distribution among economic agents profoundly affect the nature of the political state and the development trajectory. This paper identifies two basic trajectories to a high-income democracy linked to the scale and deployment of rents. Low-rent countries tend to engender developmental political states that competitively diversify the economy and sustain rapid per capita GDP (PCGDP) growth, which strengthens three key sanctions against anti-social governance (political accountability, social capital and the rule of law) to achieve endogenous democratization that is incremental. In contrast, rent-rich countries are likely to experience a slower and more erratic transition. This is because high rents tend to nurture non-developmental (predatory) political states whose deployment of the rent locks the economy into a staple trap, which carries a high risk of a growth collapse. The events presaging a growth collapse weaken sanctions against anti-social governance. However, a growth collapse may abruptly trigger democracy if exogenous factors are favourable, although such a change is likely to prove unstable and prone to regression. Very preliminary tests of the link between PCGDP growth and sanctions against antisocial governance suggest that social capital and law strengthen as predicted by the models for low-rent countries, but political accountability lags. Rent-rich countries exhibit the expected weaker link between PCGDP growth and democratization, an outcome consistent with a more erratic transition towards a high-income democracy.
natural resources government incentives development trajectory