Deliberative Democracy and the Resource Curse: A Nationwide Experiment in Tanzania
Oil and gas discoveries in developing countries are often associated with shortsighted economic policies and, in response, with calls to insulate resource management from populist impulses. The authors report on a randomized experiment that tested methods to overcome this apparent tension between sound resource governance and democratic politics. Soon after Tanzania's discovery of major natural gas reserves, the authors invited a nationally representative sample of voters to take part in an intensive public deliberation of policy options, at an event featuring nationally recognized experts and small-group discussions. Democratic deliberation reinforced the public's strong preference for rapid spending of gas revenues, but also increased support for various prudential and economically orthodox measures, such as the independent oversight of gas revenues, limits on government borrowing, and selling gas abroad rather than subsidizing fuel at home. These effects were driven by deliberation per se, rather than a pure information treatment, and show no evidence of contamination by facilitator effects or peer effects in group deliberations.