David Landes's book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor has some interesting ideas.

Landes argues that a nation's culture and societal structure are strong factors that determine how well it does economically. For example, European society encouraged technological and organizational innovations. Those innovations, fostered by a concept of progress, let Europe surpass and eventually dominate the rest of world.

Within Europe, Spain ended up falling behind despite the wealth it received from overseas. Spanish society (remember the Inquisition) discouraged new ideas and drove off valuable people who didn't agree with the religious orthodoxy. Landes points out the similarities between colonial Spain and the present-day OPEC nations, none of whom can convert valuable resources into a long-term industrial infrastructure.

Wealth and Poverty of Nations goes into a lot more detail, of course. Even though it downplays some issues, such as colonialism and economic inequities within countries, it provides some worthwhile insights.

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