Monday, April 1, 2013

The Resource Curse Curse

I am not a huge fan of the tar sands industry, so I don't want to be seen as a defender of it when I criticize an anti-tar sands op ed. But I cannot help but point out some huge problems with this piece by Thomas Homer-Dixon.   THD has crossed over into the real world from the academic one with books that capture more eyeballs than most.  However, he takes a contested concept, the resource curse, and utterly breaks it when talking about Canada. 

How so?
  • as others have tweeted, the oil industry is not that big a part of Canada's economy.  Really. 
  • it violates basic social science--unless you factor in time travel, causes MUST precede outcomes.  But much of the stuff in the piece happened before the big oil boom of late
    • Whatever Canada's position as an innovative country relative to the rest, most of that is not news.  Whether that is the brain drain that the Canada Research Chair program sought to reverse by hiring me (oops) or the tax structure or whatever, it is not a recent phenomenon.
    • The Conservatives won a big majority without gaining a majority in seats?  Um, this happens all the time in first past the post electoral systems, which Canada has had forever
  •  Yes, the Conservatives are nasty to their opponents, as the piece notes "environmental and other radical groups."  But remember how members of the party accused those opposed to new internet regulations as being pro-Child p-ngraphy?  This is a party that takes extreme us vs them kinds of spins on things, and it has nothing to do with oil. 
There are a lot of problems with tar sands, but one might be more convincing if one focuses on the stuff that is really going on due to the tar sands versus that which is just part and parcel of Canadian politics and of the Conservative Party.  

I am not worried that a negative US decision will destroy US-Canadian relations, but I am also not worried that continued exploitation of the tar sands will lead Canada into becoming Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, or oil state x.

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