Property Rights and the Resource Curse: A Reply to Wenar

In “Property Rights and the Resource Curse” Leif Wenar argues that the purchase and sale of resources from certain countries constitutes a violation of property rights, and the priority in reforming global trade should be on protecting these property rights. Specifically, Wenar argues that the U.S. and other western liberal democracies should not be complicit in the trade of so-called cursed resources, and the extant legal system can be used to end the trade in cursed resources by prohibiting the importation of cursed resources, litigating against companies that operate in resource-cursed countries, and imposing trade tariffs on third party countries’ exports if they trade in cursed resources. In this paper, I show that while Wenar is correct that the trade in cursed resources is morally objectionable and therefore creates additional moral obligations for participants in that trade, his normative assessment fails to take account of the complexity of the resource curse and his prescriptive proposal for clean trade will not reduce harm in resource-cursed countries. I suggest that the reduction of harm, rather than the enforcement of property rights, should be the normative and practical focus in evaluating and reforming trade in natural resources.
Keywords resources curse  applied ethics  international trade
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DOI 10.5840/jpr2012378
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David Wiens (2015). Natural Resources and Government Responsiveness. Politics, Philosophy and Economics 14 (1):84-105.
Leif Wenar (2008). Property Rights and the Resource Curse. Philosophy and Public Affairs 36 (1):2–32.
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