Northern Austerity vs. Southern Profligacy

I recently wrote a post discussing the differences between North and South. Taking as my starting point Anne Applebaum’s article about well-budgeted Northern European countries vs. profligate Southern European countries, I extended her theme to discuss Northern hemisphere vs. Southern, and Northern states vs. Southern states here in the US. Now I want to continue my riff and see if I can expand even further on this latitudinal dichotomy.

Can we call this dichotomy a civil war of behavior? And if we do, does the allusion to America’s Civil War help or hurt? Certainly one could make a case that the American South, by building an economy on the backs (literally) of slaves, enabled a profligacy that wasn’t really warranted. An economy built on the untenable foundation of slave labor is sort of like building the economy of Greenwich, Connecticut on the false profits of Wall Streeters trading sham mortgage securities, or building the economy of Greece on money borrowed from other countries and then stolen from the national treasury. People still get to buy their Maseratis, but they haven’t really earned the money.

What explains this broad gap between North and South? Or is North v. South even the right distinction? After all, Australia and New Zealand are pretty far south, and they are generally well run. South Africa is also way south, and even has south in its name, but it’s the best run country in Africa. Maybe the proper axis to examine is equatorial v. non-equatorial.

In my (admittedly limited) traveling experience, it does seem like tropical lands generally have a relaxed attitude about life. This relaxed attitude could easily become profligacy or corruption, or apathy regarding profligacy or corruption among leaders. Perhaps it is the ease of living in these climates that engenders this relaxed attitude. I mean, if you can wear shorts and flip flops all year round, and crops grow easily, why wouldn’t you just hang loose and relax? Compare that to Germany, for example, or Massachusetts, where there are seasons and snow and you have to bundle up and carefully plan your crops. It stands to reason that cultures in these more challenging environments would consequently be more organized and open to austerity.

Winter in Germany

I should note that I have no data to back this up; I am purely using deductive reasoning. I should also emphasize that I am NOT saying that tropical cultures are bad, worse, corrupt, inferior, or any other pejorative. I am purely noting that if your climate makes it that you don’t need to worry or plan, you probably won’t worry or plan that much.


One response to “Northern Austerity vs. Southern Profligacy

  1. I’ve heard a version of this theory before, it was in reference to Africa generally. I’m not sure I would put much stock in the over generalization.

    We don’t usually spend a lot of money on heating our homes in SW Florida (this year being one of those exceptions), but we spend it cooling them for much of the year, so the money gets spent somehow on making it a place we can live. Unless we spend big money to make tropical life bearable in the heat and humidity, life, and the size of the population down here would be rather different, much like it was before WW I

    Probably, we should look at why and how we spend money, public and private, and the answers might be very interesting.

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