I believe this is referring to David McClelland's 1961 book "The Achieving Society."* McClelland proposed that an achievement motivation (desire for achievement) could predict economic growth and success. He examined this from a range of social and individual psychological factors, including the achievement content of "cultural products" such as children's stories and folk tales. He developed a value coding system for children's stories that centered on the impact of different story characteristics on the ego (this is your passive vs active term). Examples include whether the protagonist was of high or low social standing (ego status), influences on the ego (fate or man), how the ego responds (brains vs brawn), and whether the ego (protagonist) engages in work in order to achieve a goal. These in turn were coded into achievement motivation.
Among his findings, McClelland noted that cultural products high in achievement motivation were associated with how many full-time entrepreneurs were found in pre-literature cultures, the economic success of different historical empires, and the rate of growth in national consumption of electric power (and presumably industry) in the early twentieth century.
McClelland continued to publish on the topic (1975), though the theory received criticism and some subsequent studies failed to replicate his results (Gilleard, 1989; Mazur & Rosa, 1977). However, a more recent study suggested that an expansion of the theory would more readily capture the impact of motivation on economics in Eastern cultures, and might strengthen the predictive power of this method (Doyle & Doyle, 2001). Additionally, a 2009 study (Engeser, Rheinberg, & Moller) comparing achievement imagery in school textbooks in different German states found that the more economically successful regions had books with more achievement images. The introduction to the Engeser & colleagues paper also provides some links to related studies, for your reference.
Doyle, K. O., & Doyle, M. R. (2001). Meanings of wealth in European and Chinese fairy tales. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(2), 191-204.
Engeser, S., Rheinberg, F., & Moller, M. (2009). Achievement motive imagery in German schoolbooks: A pilot study testing McClelland's hypothesis. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 110-113.
Gilleard, C. J. (1989). The achieving society revisited: A further analysis of the relation between national economic growth and need achievement. Journal of Economic Psychology, 10(1), 21-34.
Mazur, A. & Rosa, E. (1977). An empirical test of McClelland's "Achieving Society" Theory. Social Forces, 55(3), 769-774.
*McClelland's book was originally published by D. Van Nostrand Co., Princeton, NJ, but seems to have been republished in 2010 by Martino Fine Books (ISBN: 978-1891396397).