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Why a wealth of natural resources may not mean a straight line to economic prosperity

11 min listen

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In this episode of Life Solved, we gain an insight into the complex and far-reaching world of Development Economics. The University of Portsmouth’s Professor Andy Thorpe tells us about carrying out research in remote locations or in volatile or changing situations, in order to uncover how distinct factors can build up the economic puzzle of a nation.

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Deep coal beds, rich oil fields – you’d think an abundance of one in-demand commodity would make a nation rich - but that’s not always the case.

Professor Andy Thorpe explains why a country’s wealth of natural resources may not mean a straight line to economic prosperity.

Have you ever heard of a “resource curse”?

Oil, for example, is very important to places like Kuwait. The only problem, of course, is that everybody wants to work in oil. You tend to find that oil tends to crowd out any other type of economic activity, and they refer sometimes to that being a resource curse.

Professor Andy Thorpe, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law

An economic puzzle

Andy specialises in researching how economies grow; their rate of change and development. This means that his work stretches across diverse sectors and subject areas like fishing, agriculture and climate change, in order to build up a picture of each nations economic puzzle.

He says a diverse economy is healthier than one relying upon a single or finite resource and explains how this ‘simple’ big picture of a diverse and innovative economy can be clouded by short-term election-winning policies, conflicting priorities and political pressures.

You have to look at all the factors that may influence why a country develops in certain ways – why senators to vote in certain ways – and try to disentangle the impacts of that change

Professor Andy Thorpe, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law

War, politics, climate and change

Professor Thorpe has studied the impact of civil war and environmental pressures upon economies, as well as changing and volatile situations. He says that this edge is what drives his curiosity, and it’s taken him around the world from mountains in Central Asia to Argentina and Sierra Leone:

I've always been she with a somewhat more unconventional. I mean, when I was young, for me the two weeks package holiday to Spain, I’d go off and hitchhike around Europe for two, three months. So doing different things in different places was always quite exciting

Professor Andy Thorpe, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Business and Law

From politics to war and climate change, how can governments best secure the future of their nation? The big picture can look a little different in the face of short-term tensions.

Episode transcript:

John Worsey: You're listening to Life Solved from the University of Portsmouth, where research is taking place to change our world for the better. In this series, we're meeting some very clever people and understanding how they're making a difference in your life and mine.

John Worsey: I'm John Worsey and today we meet Professor Andy Thorpe. He's a Professor of Development Economics and Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Business and Law at Portsmouth.

Andy Thorpe: So I sort of developed an interest in sort of fisheries policy. If you want to value inland fisheries, you need to know every single fish that's been caught and the price of those fish that were caught and if they've been used for self-consumption. Then you've got to put a value on that and that's really impossible.

John Worsey: He told me how his work allows him to make a difference in poorer parts of the world.

Andy Thorpe: But there again, should we ignore something that because it's impossible or should we try to estimate as best as we can? Because if we can put a value on that resource, then we can argue more strongly in favour of its preservation.

John Worsey: Right.

John Worsey: I met Professor Andy Thorpe.

John Worsey: Andy's specialism is development economics, which is all about researching growing economies.


Andy Thorpe: My area of research very generally has anything to do with development economics. So I work on fisheries, I worked on agriculture, I worked on climate change and then other things that purely interest me. Essentially, I mean, it's how economies grow. What do you need to ensure that economies grow much faster? We'll often look at human capital.

John Worsey: Andy gave us a few examples of countries in this kind of category.

Andy Thorpe: You look at the Asian economies. One reason why they've grown so rapidly, it suggests, is because they've been very fortunate to have an education system that's been prioritised and that's enabled human capital development a

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