The Folly of Southern Hospitality

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I’d never thought I’d agree with the main points of an article written by a consistently anti-Southern writer — one who’s so bad, he’s even listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s blog roll — but here it is for the world to see. In an article that could’ve been titled, "Reconstruction goes into overdrive," John Sugg exposes the dirty business of taxpayer-funded corporate subsidies. It’s most prevalent, he says, in the states of the former Confederacy:

But there’s one part of the country that’s especially quick to throw taxpayers’ money at businesses in the hope of creating jobs and raising tax revenue. For the last 70 years, the idea that businesses need special inducements to locate themselves in the South has become ingrained in the region’s public policy. The general theme in Southern politics is to be “pro-business,” which politicians interpret to mean pro-subsidy.

What’s wrong with attracting business to the South? First of all, as Sugg reveals, there’s little or no connection between these lavish subsidies to big business and job creation. Subsidies not only go to big business, never to small, local businesses, but are certainly politically motivated. Politicians like to brag to their constituents about how they’ve created jobs by bringing in corporations, and the opening of a new plant always offers photo-ops. And something politicians like even more than publicity are the donations that roll in from grateful corporations. No better formula for corruption could be conceived. And Sugg dishes out plenty of examples.

Worse, writes Sugg, public subsidies create a vicious cycle: politicians fill the corporate troughs, corporations take all they can, and then move on to new areas to find new victims after the subsidies end. So much for job creation.

Sugg correctly notes how the process began after Appomattox:

Efforts to lure Northern factories southward began in the aftermath of the Civil War. Henry Grady, editor of The Atlanta Constitution in the 1880s, championed a scheme known as the New South. The general idea was to industrialize and diversify the former Confederacy’s economy; in practice, this meant offering Northern-owned companies cheap Southern labor in exchange for tolerating Dixie’s white supremacist policies.

(Seeing as how Jim Crow laws were birthed in the North, we’ll overlook that last judgmental sentence as irrelevant — for now.)

But it’s important to recall that the South’s loyalty to agriculture wasn’t just economic, but also moral, philosophical, and political. As early as 1816, Thomas Jefferson described the real division between North and South which would grow and erupt into the Civil War:

The alternatives between which we are to choose

[are fairly stated]: 1, licentious commerce and gambling speculations for a few, with eternal war for the many; or, 2, restricted commerce, peace and steady occupations for all. If any State in the Union will declare that it prefers separation with the first alternative to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying ‘let us separate.’ I would rather the States should withdraw which are for unlimited commerce and war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace and agriculture.

When war came, it was clear that it was a war between two economic and political systems, as opposed to the post-war propaganda that it was a great, noble war of liberation. In the real world, nations do not go to war to do good deeds; they go to war for power, land, and treasure.

This, too, was noted at the time:

"Lincoln’s determination received the hearty applause of powerful northern interests. Eastern manufacturers worried that they would lose Southern markets to European competitors because of the Confederacy’s free-trade policy. Yankee merchants and ship builders faced an end to a monopoly on the South’s coastal trade that the government granted to US vessels. Holders of government securities were edgy about the Union’s loss of tariff revenue." Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, professor of History and Economics, Golden Gate University, San Francisco, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (1996)

Foreign observers quickly comprehended the real issue the South faced:

"The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states." Charles Dickens (1812-1879) literary champion of the poor, in an 1861 article.

To industrialize, the South had to be rid of its Jeffersonian traditions. The post-bellum race to reconstruct the South into a Northern clone, then, was as much of a reconstruction of Southern culture as it was of the Southern economy. No doubt many of the Southern advocates of industrialization believed they were making the South more competitive — and every Southerner knew by heart Rhett Butler’s speech about the inability of an agrarian society to repel an industrialized invader.

But in the drive to "balance" industry and agriculture in the South, industry has taken over. Just as the Twelve Southerners warned, industry has not lived up to its promises. In fact, the "welfare-warfare" regime we have today is just as warlike and destructive of our liberties and money as Jefferson foresaw. To restore genuine economic balance, and to revive the Jeffersonian model of independent freeholders as the foundation of republican institutions, small, local business and local food production need to be revived.

That’s why the League is working on a new model for pro-Southern activism. It’s still in the works, but it intends to revive the distributist, pro-producer vision of Jefferson, John Taylor, and the Twelve Southerners. As we’ve argued previously, reviving local economies are now an economic and social necessity, not a nostalgic indulgence. The hidden pitfalls of globalism will continue to rouse more citizens, activists, and patriots to action, and all they’ll need is a plan to guide them.

Stay tuned.

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