The Economist magazine coined the term “Dutch disease” back in 1977:

The Economist coined the term in 1977 to describe the woes of the Dutch economy. Large gas reserves had been discovered in 1959. Dutch exports soared. But, we noticed, there was a contrast between “external health and internal ailments”. From 1970 to 1977 unemployment increased from 1.1% to 5.1%. Corporate investment was tumbling. We explained the puzzle by pointing to the high value of the guilder, then the Dutch currency. Gas exports had led to an influx of foreign currency, which increased demand for the guilder and thus made it stronger. That made other parts of the economy less competitive in international markets. That was not the only problem. Gas extraction was (and is) a relatively capital-intensive business, which generated few jobs. And in an attempt to stop the guilder from appreciating too fast, the Dutch kept interest rates low. That prompted investment to rush out of the country, crimping future economic potential.

(This is from a 2014 article discussing whether Russia suffers from the Dutch disease.)

That description doesn’t really give us very much to go on.  For instance, the following graph in a paper by Olivier Blanchard shows that unemployment soared throughout Western Europe during the 1970s:

In that case, why should we conclude that the Netherland’s employment problems during the 1970s had anything to do with a discovery of natural gas reserves?  Furthermore, the most effective way to fix inadequate employment is with sound monetary policy and supply-side reforms to make labor markets more flexible.

It’s also odd to name an economic disease after one of the most successful countries in global economic history.  This ranking shows the Netherlands to be number 15 on a global ranking of GDP per capita (PPP), but most of the richer countries are small oil exporters or even smaller tax havens.  It’s actually the second richest country in the world with a population of more than 10 million, trailing only the USA.

You might argue that while the Netherlands is rich, perhaps the gas discoveries hurt their non-energy exports.  But the Netherlands is also a phenomenally successful exporter of all sorts of products:

Being #4 in a global list of exporters is particularly impressive when you consider than the other countries in the top five all have vastly larger populations.  Other developed countries with natural resource bonanzas—such as Australia and Norway—also seem to have done well in recent decades.  So what’s the problem?

Here are two possibilities:

1. Creative destruction:  An energy boom causes the currency to appreciate.  This moves resources from manufacturing to energy and services.  Manufacturing jobs are somehow special, and hence this sort of economic restructuring is harmful.

2.  Corruption:  And energy boom leads to corruption, as elites compete for economic “rents”. 

If the first concern is a genuine problem (and I’m skeptical) the resource producer can prevent excessive currency appreciation by boosting national saving, as Norway has done with its sovereign wealth fund.

A recent article in The Economist discussed the second concern:

Uruguay has some structural advantages. Spanish colonialists called it the “land of no profit”, as it had neither precious metals nor cheap indigenous labour. These seeming flaws actually turned out to be strengths, however. A lack of easy rents helped ward off oligarchs. A fairly homogenous population prevented the stark racial inequality of places like Brazil.

I see no evidence that natural resource booms have caused countries such as Norway, the Netherlands or Australia to become more corrupt than otherwise.  While you can find examples of major oil producers with a high level of corruption, such as Nigeria, it’s not clear to me that the public sector in those countries would be less corrupt without the oil.