I have a hypothesis about the economic roots of cultural behavior. I cannot think of a society whose basic conventions and value system were formed or greatly altered in a context of extractive industry that wasn’t seriously damaged by it, and in an enduring way. By extractive industry, I mean mining and cattle farming on virgin land, but not farming. If the society arranged to have slaves or a near equivalent do the actual digging, so much the worse.
I might include the agriculture of the antebellum US south, which was carried out by planting the three most nitrogen-hungry crops (tobacco, maize, and cotton) and moving west when the soil was ruined; especially considering the slave labor involved, this is rather like nitrogen mining with slaves, similiar to the Spanish gold extraction of its colonial period.
The result of this apparent good fortune seems to be that the dominant level of social aspiration is to consume without creating value: the highest social status will be occupied by rentier proprietors, and young people come to believe that the object of their dreams is to not work. My view of the Expulsion has always been that enabling (and obliging) humanity to create value was God’s greatest gift to us, and that Eden was a destructive and addictive drug.
Does anyone know any counterexamples, either way? Norwegian and British North Sea oil would seem to be, but note that these windfalls occurred long after their national characters were formed by trying to make a living in pretty stingy, cold, environments where if you didn’t get a real crop in in year t, you didn’t see year t +1.