I blogged on Travels with Charley about where the United States would be if there was no China suddenly. Or that at least something happened which severely limited the amount of exports it could provide. China would also be in a world of hurt if the United States could no longer provide the technology for the new products they want built for export. It brought to mind the Cargo Cults.
A cargo cult is a type of religious practice that may appear in traditional tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults are focused on obtaining the material wealth (the "cargo") of the advanced culture through magical thinking or ritual. These societies came to a head in the wake of WWII when tribes suddenly were exposed to downed aircraft or metal boats or automatic weapons. But I had one anthropology teacher that theorized that ancient Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec and Inca cultures may have been some of the original Cargo Cults as they seem to have sprung up in an already advanced state with no evidence of a gradually building technology. They were often called declining civilizations as that was the primary direction there was physical evidence to support.
While anthropological exploration has found some evidence of the building of technology in the Egyptian culture (though brain surgery seemed to just suddenly appear), this decline seems especially true of the new world jungle cultures. And they had a highly developed ritual based religion centered around human sacrifice to the gods. These rituals were increased when they were confronted with problems like drought or invasion. It is believed by scientists that had they been responsible for the height of their civilizations then they would have been able to work themselves out of their problems through scientific method and not magic. Ultimately they could not sustain growth in their culture or adapt to changing conditions and so died out.
Could the United States or China build on where we are currently at? Or adapt to suddenly changing climatic or physical conditions? The flexibility of a culture depends on its "ownership" of its technological base be that the act of creating fire or lighting huge cities or communication in the ethernet. If it was all taken out by a huge volcanic eruption could we rebuild it? Would we as a civilization (diminished in population) have the knowledge and skills to survive.
No no magic allowed.