The question of why some societies and not others grow rich has attracted the focus of thousands of scholars over the years. There are racist and genetic explanations (e.g., Oswald Spengler, Francis Galton), cultural explanations (e.g., Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel), and many political explanations.
But in 1905, a book was published in German which offered a novel perspective on the question: the great wealth of northern Europe was a result of the Protestant work ethic–and individualism. Wax Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (translated into English in 1930) asked why the wealth of Europe had moved over a thousand-year period from southern Europe (Greece and Italy) to northern Europe (Britain, Germany and Denmark). In the book Weber posited that Protestantism had triggered northern European capitalism, industriousness, savings and accumulation. By comparison, southern Europe was more Catholic and more controlled by collectivist culture.