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It's from an article at the economist.com, and it's in the 2nd line of the 17th paragraph(the paragraph right above the 3rd image).

Like Holland or Portugal, it was a country whose poverty of natural resources threw the people back on their wits.

Does it mean “leave the people on their own”?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Not exactly. It means they have to rely not on mineral wealth and other accidents of geography, but rather on their own ingenuity and inspiration: products of their minds not products of their lands. This can, of course, include hard work and clever trading strategies, both of which those two nations were well-known for in their day.

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