Instruments of Political Control: National Oil Companies, Oil Prices, and Petroleum Subsidies

Comparative Political Studies, Forthcoming

72 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2014

See all articles by Andrew Cheon

Andrew Cheon

Columbia University

Maureen Lackner

Environmental Defense Fund

Johannes Urpelainen

Johns Hopkins SAIS

Date Written: August 18, 2014


Global petroleum subsidies peaked at USD 520 billion in the summer of 2008 and reached USD 212 billion in 2011, carrying high fiscal and environmental costs. Why do some countries spend so much money to subsidize petroleum consumption? Previous studies suggest that oil rich autocracies lacking institutional capacity are the main culprits. However, they cannot explain why oil importers with capable bureaucracies, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Malaysia, subsidized petroleum products. We argue that governments in countries with national oil companies (NOCs) use petroleum subsidies to cushion the effects of increasing oil prices. Empirically, we examine the relationship between oil prices and domestic gasoline prices in 175 countries, 2002-2009. An NOC halves the effect of oil price increases on the domestic gasoline price. This effect is strongly associated with the institutional design of NOCs, as increased autonomy shields them from political interference by the government.

Keywords: petroleum subsidies, fuel subsidies, national oil companies, political economy

Suggested Citation

Cheon, Andrew and Lackner, Maureen and Urpelainen, Johannes, Instruments of Political Control: National Oil Companies, Oil Prices, and Petroleum Subsidies (August 18, 2014). Comparative Political Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Andrew Cheon

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Maureen Lackner

Environmental Defense Fund ( email )

1875 Connecticut ave
257 Park Avenue South
Washington, DC 20009
United States
2126161442 (Phone)

Johannes Urpelainen (Contact Author)

Johns Hopkins SAIS ( email )

1740 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036-1984
United States

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