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Paul Krugman’s Hard Lesson in Ingratitude

Krugman’s the one who’s scratching his head here:

Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

The article made its case with maps showing the distribution of dependency, but you get the same story from a more formal comparison. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University tells us that in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.

First, a personal note: I have relatives who live in the same area as Paul Krugman does.  Each time I read a column of his, I think of this place, their misfortune, and paraphrase what they used to say about Mexico: “So far from God, so close to Paul Krugman…”

With that out of the way, Krugman struggles to find an explanation for this.  Why, with all of this government money thrown at them, don’t these people express some gratitude for all of this largesse, especially at the ballot box?  There is a simpler answer than he proposes (and he proposes more than one,) and it starts with the observation that at the core of the Red States are the Scots-Irish, whose wayward ways I’ve documented numerous times on this blog.  And they are, in turn, the descendants of Europe’s most inveterate ingrates.

One thing that Krugman and other liberals don’t understand (or do and are loathe to admit) is that the goal of Barack Obama and those of his idea is to transform American politics into a giant patron-client system, where the patrons dispense the centrally located largesse and the clients fawn in praise of its reception, especially at election time.  Students of Roman history understand this idea completely; it drove the whole Roman system.  It can be argued that the Christian Church’s biggest challenge in its growth and ultimate legalisation was to avoid the corrupting influence of the patron-client system, and the history of the church–especially towards the end of the Roman Empire and beyond–isn’t encouraging in that regard.  As William Simmons pointed out in Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide:

The rules governing the patron-client relationship were part and parcel with the social fabric of the day.  The patron granted charites, “graces,” to the client, who in turn was to be “grateful,” eucharistos, towards the patron. (p. 275)

Some of the most fervid resisters of this system were in the British Isles.  Ireland was never conquered by the Romans, who were also ultimately unsuccessful in subduing the Scots.  But there were rumblings on the southern side of Hadrian’s Wall as well.  It can be argued that the popularity of Pelegianism in Britain was related to its reaction to Augustine’s single-minded focus on gratia (grace.) For a people who understood this concept all too well on a secular level, the appeal of Augustinian theology to Pelagius and other Brits was understandably lacking.  (The British were eventually to cut the cord on the Romans, but ultimately with disastrous results.)

On this side of the Atlantic, we’ve seen the same thing.  Liberals have forgotten this, but for many years Southern legislators (Democrats almost to the man) were successful in getting large government projects in their states, mostly public improvements like dams and lakes (TVA is the single largest example of this) to say nothing of the military installations.  But when the racial and other policies of their patrons changed, the South executed a volte-face that would still be amazing if we had better political memories.

The simplest way for people who are receiving graces to conceal the nature of the patron-client relationship is to adopt an entitlement mentality, i.e., they owe it to me.  We’re seeing this in Europe and especially Greece over the bailout mess they’re in.  The difference, however, between people who take patronage the Roman way and those who don’t is that the latter have convinced themselves that they have what they have as a matter of right.  Once you have that ingrained into your psyche, there’s no problem turning on your patrons like a snake when the occasion calls for it.  And no people have a stronger sense of their own rights than the Scots-Irish; it’s their contribution to making this country what it has been.

As long as we refuse to see what the real objectives are, we will never have rational political discourse in this country.


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