Rachel Maddow didn't set out to write a book. But a nagging question led her there: Why did Russia interfere in America's 2016 presidential election, and why attack the United States in such a cunning way?
Although the MSNBC host regularly devotes ample airtime to the topic of Russia on The Rachel Maddow Show, her digging led her to a thesis she thought was too long for TV.
In her new book, Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, Maddow concludes that Russia is a victim of a "resource curse" — a paradox that resource-rich countries tend to be poorer, less democratic and more corrupt.
Russia's shaky economy, hampered by a reliance on oil and gas, helps explain the country's weakness, and "some of Russia's weakness explains why they attacked us in the way they did," Maddow argues. She says Vladimir Putin exploited Russia's lucrative oil industry to support his vision of making Russia a superpower again.
"When you've got one resource that's pulling in such a big revenue stream, you tend to end up with very rich elites who will do anything to hold onto power who stopped doing the other things that governments should otherwise be doing to serve the needs of the people," she said in an interview with All Things Considered.
Maddow said her book is meant to be a "sober realization" that our democracy is under threat and that Americans have a part to play: "Regulating big corrosive industries that undermine our democratic processes is part of standing up and bolstering our democracies, that we do actually need to rein in some of these guys."
"I wouldn't have written the book if I didn't think there was something to do here," she said. "I think what would make a big difference here is stuff that is very doable."
On how the "resource curse" weakens nations like Russia
The basic idea is that if in your country you've got natural resources that somebody is going to pay to come into your country and extract and then sell on the international market. That seems like something that ought to economically benefit your country. You will get new revenue from the extraction and sale of your natural resources. But what we see over and over again is that selling off your natural resources in the commodities market tends to kind of ruin your country. It tends to leave you worse off even economically worse off. And that's because it has a warping effect on your economy. It's hard to have a diversified stable economy when you've got one resource that's pulling in such a big revenue stream.
When you've got one resource that's pulling in such a big revenue stream you tend to end up with very rich elites who will do anything to hold onto power who stopped doing the other things that governments should otherwise be doing to serve the needs of the people.
On whether the U.S. has a role to play
We the people of the United States have the key role in the whole world to play in this because the Western oil majors — not all of them but most of the important ones — are U.S. companies. And even if they're not U.S. companies, they need to operate within the United States which is a rule-of-law country, which has the opportunity to regulate them if we so choose.
... If our government chose to make oil and gas companies better international and better corporate citizens, it would have a knock on effect all over the world in terms of this industry being able to prop up despotic regimes and sort of malignant bad actors around the world. We have the power to fix this if we demand that our representatives do this.
On what she hopes to accomplish with the book
This isn't an activist book, it's not a call to action. It's essentially a call to be conscience of this, and I do think, to look at our situation in the country broadly right now, there is a growing awareness that we need to think about bolstering our democracy, I think. Democracy is in decline globally, and it is under pressure both here and around the world, and what I'd like to contribute to that very sober realization we're having right now is a realization that regulating big corrosive industries that undermine our democratic processes is part of standing up and bolstering our democracies, that we do actually need to rein in some of these guys.
NPR's Eliza Dennis and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited this story for broadcast. Emma Bowman produced it for the Web.
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