Trillion Dollar Baby by Paul Cleary

Norway’s discovery and development of huge oil reserves in the North Sea has led to the creation of the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. In contrast, Australia’s resource boom has been met with the growth of national debt. While Australia’s growth in debt has been the more familiar story among resource-rich developed countries, in Trillion Dollar Baby, Cleary seeks to elucidate how Norway managed to avoid the resource curse.

Quickly realising that it would have only one chance to gain from this non-renewable bonanza, Norway swung into action with a firm taxation basis and direct investment into all areas of exploration, extraction, and processing of petroleum. An unshakeable public and governmental consensus that the resources of Norway must be managed to the benefit of the nation as a whole underpinned Norwegian resource policy from the first moments of oil exploration. Paul Cleary energetically lays out the policy decisions and the subsequent fiscal management decisions that enabled Norway to take control of its resources boom and turn from a nation in debt to most of Europe to one of Europe’s creditors within a generation.

An unexpected pleasure of Trillion Dollar Baby is the diversion into the world of deep sea diving. A thrilling story of human adventure in the treacherous North Sea, Cleary evokes the frontier adventure of individual divers working at the edge of existing technology and human endurance. This poignant chapter on the human cost of oil exploration and development unexpectedly brought me to tears.

It is in finding this balance of human story and clearly articulated economic and fiscal description that Cleary succeeds in creating the compelling tale of how Norway beat the oil giants and won a lasting fortune.

Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.