Migration from the south into America: new people, new foods, new political systems

Comment by Duncan Kinder

One of the more exciting themes that we are going to encounter, IMHO, is when Latino groups begin to assert themselves not only in the sense of being some interest group in the traditional American sense but when they begin to import Latin America political themes, organizations, concepts, and the like and begin to mold things according to their own dynamic.  I believe that salsa has already replaced ketchup and it seems to me that tortilla chips have replaced pretzels as the alternative to potato chips. Something like this is going to start happening to politics.

Fabius Maximus replies

We are already seeing this in the Southwest, as Latino groups introduce not only foods, but also their homelands’ politics: the client-patron system. I hope you enjoy it as much as you do salsa and tortillas.

This series consists of the following posts; this is the first in the series.

  1. Description of client-patron political systems
  2. Why immigration benefits America’s political elites
  3. The padrón system in America

1.  Description of client-patron political systems 

In this system, often called clientelistic, economic and political relationships become personalized to a degree far greater than typical in modern western societies.  It is a difference in degree, not kind.  Here is a brief description of what we can look forward to.

Hierarchical relationships in which one party feels dependent on the other have long been common in Latin American societies in a wide variety of situations. In agrarian sectors, for example, landowners often provided selective access to monopolized lands and water sources, thereby creating indebtedness and moral obligations while obtaining a steady supply of labor services or scarce skills. There, as in urban contexts with high rates of unemployment, employment opportunities are provided in exchange for loyalty and backing in elections.

  • Politicians may secure a loan, a place in a secondary school, a hospital bed, or other special considerations for their employees, “friends of friends,” and followers in return for political loyalty; conversely, people may seek the political protection of a powerful man. In another setting, bureaucrats may provide preferential access to petitioners in return for future favors.
  • Poor people may try to establish links with men of rank in order to share in their “social visibility,” while the latter use these links to consolidate their status.
  • Market-stall holders may give special treatment to customers of high status to initiate a compadrazgo (ritual kinship) relationship.
  • In provincial towns, middlemen may obtain the option to buy everything grown by the campesinos by lending them money during lean months and assisting them when they are in trouble with the law, as landowners of the past did with their serfs or tenants.
  • Professional men may seek prestige and a following by offering their services to the rural and urban poor without demanding any immediate return.
  • Union activists build the following necessary for them to gain high-level office and control of institutional resources.

… Although clientelistic relations encompass a wide variety of situations, all such relations can be shown to share a number of basic features. Foremost, they are “vertical” (i.e., hierarchical) bonds based on inequality and power differences. They arise in the framework of class inequalities and stratified, class societies in which benefits and resources are distributed selectively to only limited segments of the population. In such societies, patrons from among the dominant and well-off strata monopolize positions vitally important to would-be clients from among lower classes and strata; namely, access to the means of production, the major markets and centers of power and decision-making, and control over the distribution of public goods and community services.

… As these contradictions are built into the clientelistic relationship, they put clients in a dependent position from the start. … Nevertheless, the patron’s position is not as solid as it appears, nor is it guaranteed, for instance, by ascription, that is kinship, tribal, or territorial criteria. On the contrary, patrons invest much time and energy in gaining and regaining control over their clients. This control is never fully legitimated but is vulnerable to attack

  • by social forces committed to formal, universalistic principles of social exchange,
  • by the competition of other patrons, potential and actual, and
  • by the social forces excluded from clientelistic relations.

… Hence, I could not agree more with those like Flynn ( 1974) and Rothstein ( 1979), who see in clientelism a mechanism of class control no less strong than that found in feudalism, and who advise analysts to refrain from exaggerating the voluntaristic aspect of clientelism since coercion is often built into the lack of alternatives faced by clients.

… Consequently, patron-client relations constitute a form of social bond (similar to kinship and friendship) that may become central to institution building under certain conditions, and that constitute a basic ground for regulating the flow of social resources as well as interpersonal and institutional exchange. In other words, clientelism can serve as an easily available metaphor of hierarchy that links specific interests to more long-term obligations and/or commitments. As such, it helps to cement some sort of moral order, be it Hobbessian-like or more generalized and benign.

   — From Hierarchy and Trust in Modern Mexico and Brazil, Luis Roniger (1990)

To better understand what we can look forward to, one of the best descriptions is “The Class Basis of Patron-Client Relations”, Frances Rothstein, Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 6, No. 2, Views on Dependency (Spring, 1979). (I see no free copy online, available for purchase here).

This paper describes and analyzes patron-client relations in a rural community in Mexico. It shows that clientelism is determined not by cultural lag or precapitalist conditions but by the nature of dependent capitalism in contemporary Mexico and its particular class structure. … Clientelism or patron-client relations is a form of politics in which ties between leaders and followers are personal. The patron grants favors in return for political support, material goods, and/or other services.

History again repeats itself

Clientelism is a common pattern throughout history.  From feudal Europe and Japan to American urban politics (e.g., Tammany Hall in NYC).  Much of British and American history consists of attempts to move beyond this — to a system offering people greater opportunity and freedom.  Our elites appear to be reversing that progress,

  1. Concentrated of wealth and income (aka material inequality), as see figure 8.2, page 213 in “Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries“, OECD, October 2008.
  2. Low opportunity for social mobility (solidification of a class structure)
  3. Large numbers of migrants from societies with a client-patron system (the catalyst around which the new system forms).

Part II in this series looks at developments in America.


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

About the Constitution and our government:

  1. Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
  2. The Constitution: wonderful, if we can keep it, 15 February 2008
  3. Congress shows us how our new government works, 14 April 2008
  4. See the last glimmers of the Constitution’s life…, 27 June 2008
  5. Remembering what we have lost… thoughts while looking at the embers of the Constitution, 29 June 2008
  6. A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 3 July 2008
  7. Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008

9 thoughts on “Migration from the south into America: new people, new foods, new political systems”

  1. “Our elites appear to be reversing that progress’

    Agreed. America’s current elite is a far less admirable group – grasping, small-minded, superficially educated, alienated from the people – than the Eastern Establishment that cohered around the likes of Roosevelt, Lodge, Root, etc. The Establishment may have taken their cut but it was always in pursuit of a larger national good. This crowd gives the nation a cut in pursuit of their own good – and only to the extent of political necessity.

    Surprised given your nom de guerre that you did not bring up the original Roman clientela.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a brilliant connection! From Wikipedia:

    Clientela was a Roman law, or social convention that linked Plebeians with the legal, social, and sometimes economic protection of Patrician families. This was not only customary, but necessary, as Plebeians on their own had limited legal rights and protections under the law, and could not legally enter into contracts.

    Anyone – usually a Pleb – who required protection or assistance of a more powerful family could petition them to become a cliens, and accept the head of the more powerful family as their patronus (this is clearly from where the modern terms patron and client are derived). Theoretically, such a relationship could be temporary, once the “favor” or obligatio was discharged – if it were a matter of money, or political support, for example. In practice, such relationships were very long term, often multi-generational as the obligations of clientes and patronii were legally and customarily passed down from father to son.

    The cliens and the patronus had mutual obligations to one another.

  2. I am at a loss to explain both state sponsored multiculturalism in western societies, as well as the encouragement by governments of migration from nations whose people do not easily (or do not want) to assimilate into the host nation.

    As the article indicates, one of the short term benefits is better cuisine. But what are the long term costs?

    As someone who has lived in Japan, I can state with a degree of authority that racism, prejudice and discrimination are more prevalent in that country than my own. I experienced that first hand.

    I suspect that westerners widely engage in a form of self censorship in regards to matters of immigration, multiculturalism, race and culture. This is probably due to the colonial past a number of the imperialist powers shared, and the difficult and often unequal relations they had with the local people whom they colonised. Not to mention horrific European wars.

    The people that were colonised do not now share our “guilt” in our colonial history.

    Such a situation I think leaves the majority of us psychologically unprepared to form a defence against the exploitation of such weaknesses. How do you form a defence against a group that organises politically along the lines of race or nation? (Americans would be familiar with “La Raza” for example).

    There are, and would be enormous problems with people of European decent organising politically along the lines of race.

    And yet, large number of people in western societies are concerned about an ever increasing portion of their migrants coming from non western backgrounds.

    Seems to be one of those issues that people, given the chance would prefer to ignore than ever have to do anything about it.

    FM – Would appreciate your thoughts on this delicate subject. How did this situation come about and why? What, if anything can be done about it?

  3. To be honest I dont think many Europeans feel guilty about there colonial past, outside of Universities, the negatives of Colonialism are never really discussed in schools. I think you can rule out guilt as a driver of Multicultualism. In fact most Europeans view immigrants with barely disguised contempt, especially Africans and Muslims. France, Britain, Italy, Germany, have all had very different experiences, I don’t think its very useful to try and define a European experience as a whole.
    My personal opinion is that multiculturalism was used as a convenient way of preventing assimilation, and was a tact agreement between the immigrant and the host society. In Europe this was most evident in the UK, and it has had serious social consequences, up to the point where it has been discussed at a high level as to wheater Sharia law should be introduced in a limited form for British Muslims.
    One of the big problems is illegal immigration and our addiction to cheap labour. Illigeal immigrants are much lightly to fall back on there own people rather than the structures the host society has in place, such as law, health care ect. As an example my brother runs a large bar and bistro in on the upper west side in new york, with out illegal immigration this enterprise would not exist, all the cleaners, kithen staff, bus boys ect are illegal(latino), and are paid cash in hand, the bar staff are illegal(white euro) only the waitresses are american . About 90% of the small to medium sized enterprises in catering in new york are in the same position. This is enforced multiculturalism.
    We’ve rapidly built an underclass because we’ve structured economies that need large amounts cheap labor to function. Not every western country has done this by any means, but alot have.

  4. It’s interesting that perhaps the single most anti-elitist, and thus anti-patronist politician is now Sarah Palin; perhaps she is attacked by elitists because of this?

    On immigration, and especially illegal immigration, its widespread existence might well be one reason for the “Dude, where’s my recession” questions — construction decimated illegal construction workers, first. But no big jump in the official citizen unemployment numbers, altho the economy was slowing rapidly.

    The biggest cultural issue of immigration might be the acceptance of less freedom in order to be relieved of the responsibility for individual success, and the behavior success requires. Since many immigrants oppose this change, just like many native-born white Americans support it, it’s not such a clear immigration issue. Speaking Spanish, and NOT English, is a clear anti-English American issue.

    I’m pretty sure American born children of illegals, who are often in the bottom 10%, usually make it up higher into the 9th or 8th deciles, and many up thru the top. The Sad Graph, with a lower than expected bottom 10%, is especially skewed because of the many Mexicans.

    I doubt that Denmark or any other non-US OECD country has 5-10% of their workers being illegal immigrants (now that so many E. Europeans are legal). I find it sad that so many Americans are willing to change the attrativeness of the American market into the same kind of un-attractive techno-elite constrained slow growth market as is Europe, yet aren’t willing to try to live in Europe to see.

    On economics, and opportunity, I prefer America. (On family values in practice, perhaps E. Europe is more family friendly still. But I wasn’t an economic emigrant from the US.)
    Fabius Maximus replies: Most of this is not worth checking, but I suspect many of these guesses are incorrect.

    One aspect that is easy to check is unemployment. During the first phase of the slowdown (now ending, as we entered the steeper part of the “s” curve), the slow rise in the unemployment numbers are due to factors not obvious to those who look only at the headlines — such as…
    * decrease in temporary workers and independent contractors (neither well-covered by unemployment insurance),
    * shrinkage of the labor force (as those who lose jobs drop out, either to retirement or “discouraged workers”).

    The broader unemployment picture is captured by the Department of Labor’s U-6 metric (which some economists consider a better measure of unemployment): Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a % of the civilian labor force.
    Sept 2006: 8.0%. Sept 2007: 8.4%. Sept 2008: 11.0%
    Sept 2008 is the highest on record, since Jan 1998). The previous high, during the last recession, was only 10.4% (Sept 2003).

    Plus, as your mention..
    * loss of jobs by illegals.

  5. For a source that contrasts with Fabius’ over Latin American political impact, goto Upsidedown World, a recent article: Latinobarómetro US Election Poll: Latin Americans Have Other Concerns:

    1. Awareness of the Election:

    * 57% have little to no awareness, 40% say they have some and a lot. Young people between the ages of 18 and 25 have the most.
    * Except for the Dominican Republic, which preferred Obama by 52%, no other country had a majority preference for either candidate.
    * 34% said that the new president will pay the same amount of attention [to Latin America] as now, 22% said he will pay more attention, 33% said he will pay less, and 33% didn’t know.

    Other other items to chew on:
    * Pentecostalism is growing in Latin America. Sarah Palin is a Pentecostal.
    * Bolivia has recently halted US anti-drug operations.
    Fabius Maximus replies: How does this “contrast with Fabius’ over Latin American political impact”? While interesting information, I see no obvious overlap with or relevance to my post.

  6. I was merely expanding upon the sorts of things which I had in mind when making the post which you quoted above.

  7. Here in Chicago the patron-client system has long been established. In city government, the question is often “who is your clout?” And there is a term for one’s patron, or clout: “chinaman.” There’s also the famous line uttered against non-connected public job applicants: “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

    It’s a machine-based system, hierarchical, non-merit based, rife with corruption. Welcome to the new world, huh?

  8. The famous line was uttered to former Federal judge and presidential counselor Abner Mikva, who as a young man, wandered into his ward committeeman’s office to volunteer for the Stevenson campaign. It’s not recorded whether Mikva received the heave-ho from a ward heeler or the committeeman himself.

    Another great line from the same period, was from Alderman Paddy Bauler – ” Chicago ain’t ready for reform”. And it still isn’t.

    incidently, the spirit of that period – or, 2008 come to think of it – is best expressed by Nelson Algren’s _Chicago, City on the Make_ ( though Mike Royko’s _Boss_ is great too).

  9. Pingback: To Govern is to Populate « The Committee of Public Safety

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