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TitleLiving in the Garden of Eden: Mineral Resources Foster Individualism
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Living in the Garden of Eden:
Mineral Resources Foster Individualism∗

Mathieu Couttenier∗∗ Marc Sangnier∗∗∗

June 2012

Abstract

This paper documents a positive relationship between mineral
resources abundance and individualistic values in the United States.
We refer to “individualism” as the set of values opposed to public
intervention in income allocation and favorable to individual self-
responsibility. We show that individuals living in states with large
mineral resources endowment are more individualistic. We take ad-
vantage of both the spatial and the temporal distributions of mineral
discoveries since 1800 to uncover two channels. The experience chan-
nel arises because of direct observation of discoveries by individuals.
The transmission channel consists in the persistence of specific val-
ues across generations.
Keywords : Individualism, Redistribution, Mineral Resources, Per-
sistence.
JEL codes : Z10, Q32, O10.

∗We thank Yann Algan, Rémi Bazillier, Pierre Cahuc, Andrew Clark, Paola Con-
coni, Lionel Fontagné, Luigi Guiso, Rachel Kranton, Thierry Mayer, Rodrigo Paillacar,
Paul Seabright, Claudia Senik, Mathias Thoenig, Julien Vauday, Thierry Verdier, Ro-
main Wacziarg, and Yanos Zylberberg for helpful comments. We thank the audience at
NBER Political Economy Program Meeting 2012 and at EEA Congress 2011, as well as
seminar participants at Sciences Po Paris, at the Paris School of Economics, and at the
Aix-Marseille School of Economics for useful remarks. We thank Daniel Berkowitz for
providing us data on the Ranney index.

∗∗HEC-University of Lausanne; [email protected] (corresponding author);
+41 (0)21 692 34 84; Université de Lausanne, Quartier UNIL-Dorigny, Bâtiment Ex-
tranef, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
∗∗∗Sciences Po and Paris School of Economics; [email protected]

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1 Introduction

In recent years, beliefs and values have gained much attention as deter-
minants of economic outcomes. The effect of values is documented by a
growing literature (see Fernández (2011) for a recent review). However, the
question of their formation remains broadly unexplored by the empirical
literature. At the individual level, values may be transmitted by peers or
formed through experience.

In this paper, we find that mineral resources foster individualism, using
discoveries of mineral resources in United States over the 1800−2000 period.
We refer to “individualism” as the set of values opposed to public interven-
tion in income allocation and favorable to individual self-responsibility. We
measure individualism by three questions from the General Social Survey.
We show that individuals living in states with large mineral resources en-
dowment support less redistribution by the government, less public assis-
tance to the poor, and are more favorable to individual self-responsibility.
Then, we highlight two channels through which mineral resources foster
individualism: either by transmission of values formed in the past, or by
experience of mineral discoveries at a specific point in individuals’ life-time.

The Mineral Resources Data System lists all mineral discoveries since
1800 in the United States. It allows us to observe both the effects of the
spatial and temporal differences in the distribution of mineral discoveries
across states and time on values held by individuals. We show that indi-
viduals living in states with large mineral resources endowment are more
individualistic and support less redistribution. This result persists when
controlling for individual characteristics, but also for characteristics of the
state such as its geographic location, political orientation, wealth and in-
equalities.1 We also show that this opposition to public intervention in the
economy is not compensated by heavier local volunteer activity in states
with lots of mineral resources, nor by higher charitable giving.

A history of American mining, written by Rickard in 1932, illustrates
the extent to which mining is associated with the concept of independence
of individuals in the American tradition. This book has been written “to

1Using the number of places where mining has taken place in each state during the
past century, we also find that the higher the number of mines in a state, the lower the
support for governmental redistribution by its residents.

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Figure 6: Relationship between responsibility in origin countries and re-
sponsibility among first and second generations Americans.

Sources: General Social Survey and World Values Survey. Origin country is determined using the an-
swer to the following question: “From what countries or part of the world did your ancestors come? ”.
Responsibility among Americans is constructed using first and second generations Americans. Responsi-
bility in origin country is constructed using the average answer by country to the following question from
the World Values Survey: “Now I’d like you to tell me your views on various issues. How would you
place your views on this scale? 1 means you agree completely with the statement on the left; 10 means
you agree completely with the statement on the right; and if your views fall somewhere in between, you
can choose any number in between. People should take more responsibility to provide for themselves
versus The government should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for.” The
scale of answers is reversed such that answers reflect increasing support for individual self-responsibility.

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Figure 7: Relationship between responsibility in origin countries and the
share of individuals living in mineral rather than non-mineral states.

Sources: General Social Survey and World Values Survey. See notes of table 6. Responsibility in origin
country is constructed using the average answer by country to the following question from the World
Values Survey: “Now I’d like you to tell me your views on various issues. How would you place your
views on this scale? 1 means you agree completely with the statement on the left; 10 means you agree
completely with the statement on the right; and if your views fall somewhere in between, you can
choose any number in between. People should take more responsibility to provide for themselves versus
The government should take more responsibility to ensure that everyone is provided for.” The scale of
answers is reversed such that answers reflect increasing support for individual self-responsibility.

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Table 35: Transmission channel: Residence in a mineral state and indi-
vidualism, excluding individuals who experienced discoveries during their
impressionable years, ordered logit.

Responsibility
P (y = 1) P (y = 2) P (y = 3) P (y = 4) P (y = 5)

Mineral state -0.008 -0.005 0.002 0.006 0.005
(0.004) (0.003) (0.001) (0.003) (0.003)

Inequalities
P (y = 1) P (y = 2) P (y = 3) P (y = 4) P (y = 5) P (y = 6) P (y = 7)

Mineral state -0.014** -0.006** -0.005** 0.003** 0.006** 0.005** 0.010**
(0.005) (0.002) (0.001) (0.001) (0.002) (0.002) (0.003)

Assistance
P (y = 1) P (y = 2) P (y = 3)

Mineral state -0.025* 0.016* 0.009*
(0.010) (0.006) (0.004)

*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1. Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered by year of interview ×
state. The table presents marginal effects from ordered logit models for each outcome of the independent
variables. Each line corresponds to a distinct regression. Marginal effects are estimated at the mean
of covariates. All regressions include fixed effects for the year of interview, and following individual
covariates: gender, age, age2, marital status, religion, education, employment status, race, and income.
Mineral state is equal to 1 if the respondent lives in a state with lots of mineral resources, 0 if not. The
sample is restricted to individuals living outside mineral states and individuals living in mineral states
but who did not experienced any discoveries during their impressionable years. See the appendix for a
presentation of other covariates. Responsibility is the answer, on a scale from 1 to 5, to the following
question: “Some people think that the government in Washington should do everything possible to
improve the standard of living of all poor Americans. Other people think it is not the government’s
responsibility, and that each person should take care of himself. Where would you place yourself on
this scale? ”. Inequalities is the answer, on scale from 1 to 7, to the following question: “Some people
think that the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and
the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor.
Others think that the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between
the rich and the poor. What score [...] comes closest to the way you feel? ”. Assistance is the answer,
on a scale from 1 to 3, to the following question: “We are faced with many problems in this country,
none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I’m going to name some of these problems, and
for each one I’d like you to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money on it, too little
money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on
assistance to the poor? ”.

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Table 36: Transmission channel: Residence in a mineral state and indi-
vidualism, excluding individuals who experienced discoveries during their
impressionable years, ordered probit.

Responsibility
P (y = 1) P (y = 2) P (y = 3) P (y = 4) P (y = 5)

Mineral state -0.008 -0.004 0.001 0.005 0.006
(0.005) (0.002) (0.001) (0.003) (0.003)

Inequalities
P (y = 1) P (y = 2) P (y = 3) P (y = 4) P (y = 5) P (y = 6) P (y = 7)

Mineral state -0.015** -0.005** -0.003** 0.002** 0.005** 0.004** 0.011**
(0.005) (0.002) (0.001) (0.001) (0.002) (0.001) (0.004)

Assistance
P (y = 1) P (y = 2) P (y = 3)

Mineral state -0.024* 0.014* 0.011*
(0.010) (0.005) (0.004)

*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1. Robust standard errors in parentheses, clustered by year of interview
× state. The table presents marginal effects from ordered probit models for each outcome of the
independent variables. Each line corresponds to a distinct regression. Marginal effects are estimated
at the mean of covariates. All regressions include fixed effects for the year of interview, and following
individual covariates: gender, age, age2, marital status, religion, education, employment status, race,
and income. Mineral state is equal to 1 if the respondent lives in a state with lots of mineral resources,
0 if not. The sample is restricted to individuals living outside mineral states and individuals living in
mineral states but who did not experienced any discoveries during their impressionable years. See the
appendix for a presentation of other covariates. Responsibility is the answer, on a scale from 1 to 5, to
the following question: “Some people think that the government in Washington should do everything
possible to improve the standard of living of all poor Americans. Other people think it is not the
government’s responsibility, and that each person should take care of himself. Where would you place
yourself on this scale? ”. Inequalities is the answer, on scale from 1 to 7, to the following question: “Some
people think that the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich
and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the
poor. Others think that the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference
between the rich and the poor. What score [...] comes closest to the way you feel? ”. Assistance is
the answer, on a scale from 1 to 3, to the following question: “We are faced with many problems in
this country, none of which can be solved easily or inexpensively. I’m going to name some of these
problems, and for each one I’d like you to tell me whether you think we’re spending too much money
on it, too little money, or about the right amount. Are we spending too much, too little, or about the
right amount on assistance to the poor? ”.

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