Rentierism: A matter of region or timing?

The Middle East as a region has dominated headlines for over 20 years with constant conflict in the region and almost uninterrupted U.S involvement. One question which has repeatedly been brought up, what is the cause of this seemingly never-ending turmoil.

It is especially interesting to look at the region considering the history. Centering the first civilizations in the world it would only make sense that these nations would be more well established than the rest. This however, is not the case. Instead this region appears backwards and stagnated.

So what has caused this? Clearly the existence of hydrocarbons does not automatically create a rentier states. Looking to other hydrocarbon rich nations such as Norway, Canada, and even The United States, rentierism is not an issue. Looking to where rentierism strikes the hardest is undoubtably the Middle East. So the question remains, is this an issue of region or is it something more?

It is undeniable that the recent influx of conflict in the region do not benefit the development of stable governments who have the ability to move away from the rentier style of governance. Further the history of colonialism has also played a very significant role in this issue. It is here that a probable answer can be found. First, the majority of these nations are relatively new in their creation.

(Image courtesy

The Middle East was left in shambles following World War I and the majority of states didn’t receive independence until after World War II as demonstrated by the map above. Prior to the creation of these states hydrocarbons had been discovered and was being mined. This continued to increase following their independence. The fact that these states were dependent on hydrocarbons as a their sole source of income without developing any other industry is the key reason rentierism is such a prevalent issue in this region. Comparing these countries to Norway, Canada, and The United States, these countries had already established industrial economies prior to the discovery and production of oil, thus allowing them to avoid the issue.

Conclusively, the issue of rentierism is not so much a matter of region, instead it is an issue of timing. Had the Middle East not been colonized and had they developed industrial economies prior to the discovery of oil they would not have the same issue that currently exists.


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