Or What?

Do South Carolinians hate government? Is there something within our political DNA here in the Palmetto State that causes us to hate government – all governments?

Some recent polling numbers would seem to say there is and we do.

As with so many things in our state, we first need to look at our history, and our history has generally been open hostility against government – most every government.

”South Carolinians were to be under no power on earth but themselves.” - Charles Pinckney

In our earliest days, we threw over the Lords Proprietors that owned our state in exchange for a Crown Colony of the King. We then threw over the King in our Revolution of 1776, and South Carolinians were among the leaders. The bright yellow flag of rebellion that the modern day Tea Party has adopted came from South Carolina. The flag with the coiled rattlesnake proclaiming ‘Don’t tread on me’ is named the Gadsden Flag, in honor of the fiery Charleston revolutionary Christopher Gadsden.

And then came 1860, when we led the fight for Southern Secession against the federal government that ripped apart our nation – enough said about that.

The one tidbit of history that few folks know is that the delegates representing South Carolina at the drafting of the Confederate Constitution in Montgomery held the whole process up for a few days, as they wanted to reserve the right to  secede from the Confederacy.

So fast forward to today. In the last week or so, a couple of polls have been taken in both South Carolina (a Winthrop University poll) and nationally (Pew Research) asking similar questions about how people view government on the national, state and local level.

Though the exact wording of the questions was a little different, the general findings are clear – in every case, we South Carolinians were more negative about government at all levels than our fellow citizens nationally.

When asked to rate the national government, the comparison was SC 19% positive and 79% negative. Nationally, the numbers were 33% positive and 62% negative.

In ratings of state governments, both were somewhat more positive. SC rated 31% positive and 65% negative, as compared to a nationwide rating 52% positive and 42% negative.

And when people looked at their local government, they were even more positive. In SC the positive rating was 46% and the negative 50%. Nationally these numbers were 61% positive and 31% negative.

There are lots of interesting ways to look at these numbers but the conclusion is that we in South Carolina have a negative attitude toward government at all levels, while nationally only the federal government has a negative rating.

At the risk of being a numbers crunching nerd, I did make one other calculation that is very instructive. It you combine people’s feeling about government at all levels, we in South Carolina are overall negative by better than 2:1 – we’re 32% positive and 65% negative. On a national scale, the numbers are slightly positive, 49% to 45%.

So what does this all mean? Is government worse in South Carolina than the rest of the states or are we just a bunch of ‘agin-ers’ – people who are against government in general on all levels.

My guess is we’re a little of both. On the state level, I do believe that our government has become particularly broken and corrupt – and people know it. They are reminded of this every time they turn on a late night comedian, as they seem to always be talking about our state’s politicians – not those of other states.

But I do think there is also something in our nature that makes us more suspicious – if not outright hostile – to government, any government.

Charles Pinckney, one of our state’s and nation’s founding fathers, perhaps said it best: ”South Carolinians were to be under no power on earth but themselves.”

Portrait of Charles C. Pinckney and the Bombardment of Fort Sumter use in this story are in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Phil Noble

Phil Noble

Phil Noble is a businessman from Charleston and he currently serves as President of the South Carolina New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Noble is one of the leading experts in the US and internationally on the Internet and politics. Noble is the founder of PoliticsOnline and its affiliated company Phil Noble & Associates, an international public affairs consulting firm. Noble is a veteran of over 300 political campaigns and public affairs projects in 40 states and 30 countries. He has worked to elect the head of state in 15 countries.

  1. I think it’s a matter of preconceived notions.  If one is taught (and prejudice does have to be taught) that government is coercive, then there’s no reason to think it benevolent. Also, government as a DIY enterprise has caught on less in some places than others.  After all, the plantation culture is difficult to overcome and industrial agriculture, in particular, has not changed all that much.  Industrial agriculture is exploitative of people and the land.  Having it carried out by machines, rather than people, just means there are fewer people to object to being directly abused. Instead, they sit in the cities and object on behalf of the land, irritating the dickens out of people who’ve been left behind.
    Both Georgia and South Carolina strike me as socialist states, but the residents don’t seem to realize it. It’s easier to be dollar poor when there’s public housing, public recreation, public schools, public health clinics, public boat ramps, public beaches, etc. It’s also easier to put things off until tomorrow, when there’s no chance that you’re going to freeze to death.
    Finally, I don’t think we’ve fully appreciated the extent to which the Congress has been doling out our national resources and assets to the industrial class. Now that the cupboards are getting bare and the ex-men (explorers, exploiters, exporters, exhausters, exterminators, extractors) are looking to be “compensated” for the depletion they have caused with cash, it’s easier to define the extent of their depredation and, with any luck, put a stop to it.  Because industrialized welfare really is debilitating.

  2. We all love to kick southern states for all their rednecked-ness invoking some false notion of inequality that implies slavery and blah, blah, blah. The real inequality lies in the richer states such as California, Illinois and New York. Look at California, for instance, arguably one of the wealthiest communities in the world. Since it’s such a nice place, many extremely rich folks want to live there and are also willing to pay very high taxes to do so. The politicians appeal to the rich folks sense of noblesse oblige to care for the less fortunate. The wealthy force all manner of economic restrictions on desirable land by the coast so they can live comfortably far from “the little people,” who are forced into the Golden State’s tractless scrubland and deserts. On the other end of the political spectrum in California you have a population of welfare and public union patronage with their grubby hands out. Guess who gets squeezed? The middle and high-middle incomes who the state demands pay for the “less fortunate” and public unions. So the middle income people leave. Similarly, the rich folks in New York City and Chicago foist their unsustainable notions of obligation on lower rungs of the economic ladder — people of course who cannot afford those lofty ideals. So all you’re left with is rich folks at the top who’ve rigged political and economic barriers to keep away from the poor people on whose behalf they soak the middle class (who leave).

    Arguably the most pernicous government means of going around the people to buy votes is run up huge debts, driving up interest rates and increasing credit risk. Ostensibly playing chicken with the bond market to force a default. This is a very undemocratic way of forcing an economic crisis to increase the government’s power. And one does not need to be taught this coercive — it just requires education and common sense.

    As the nearby chart indicates, the SC’ers are correct. They and their border-buddies in Georgia enjoy some of the highest credit ratings and lowest debt when compared to the faux do-gooders in California and Massachusettes. Same for the federal government. It has no business guaranting safety and comfort to any person who should have otherwise consumed, saved and invested responsibly.

        Per-Cap Debt;    Bond Rating;    Debt %

    Massachusetts    4606;    Aa1;    0.092
    Connecticut    4859;    Aa2;    0.087
    New York    3135;    Aa2;    0.065
    California    2362;    A1;    0.056
    Illinois    1856;    Aa3;    0.044
    Georgia    1120;    Aaa;    0.033

    1.  Whoops here’s SC


    2. Lee Leslie

      In fairness, you left out how these states credit ratings are subsidized by the Federal government. Below is a chart based on the Tax Foundation’s data listing of the amount of Federal Funding Received by the states compared to how much each state sent to Washington:
      Massachusetts    $0.82
      Connecticut    $0.69
      New York    $0.79
      California    $0.78
      Illinois    $0.75
      Georgia        $1.01
      South Carolina    $1.35

      Other Southern states faired pretty well, too:
      Mississippi    $2.02
      Louisiana    $1.78
      West Virginia    $1.76
      Alabama    $1.66
      Kentucky    $1.51
      Virginia    $1.51
      Arkansas    $1.41
      Oklahoma    $1.36
      Missouri    $1.32
      Maryland    $1.30
      Tennessee    $1.27
      North Carolina    $1.08

      1.  Those states are wealthier so they pay more — that’s the progressive taxation system the left wants!

        1. Money is a convenient instrument for measuring and comparing.  However, that’s all it is, an instrument, like a measuring tape.  Whether the measuring tape is made out of plastic or cloth or encased in sterling silver box makes absolutely no difference to the utility or accuracy of the measure. Many dollars are about as significant as the inches in a giant’s girth, the only difference being that dollars are easier to get rid of (spend) than the inches measuring the flab.
          Some people hoard.  So, people hoarding money should not be a surprise. Still doesn’t change that it’s worthless, unless there’s something to buy. Which comes first, product or demand? Economists would have us believe it’s demand, a preconceived notion that’s likely consistent with their own lingering resentment at having been weaned from the teat.

          1. What is your alternative to money? You mention barter system and abolishing private property. You must realize that no economy in this world, no matter how corrupt or backward, does without a means of exchange and store of value. In other words, money. Perhaps the remotest hunter/gatherers go without — but is that your ideal of civilization? If so that is horrifying. And do you not think it ironic that you’re using the computers and the internet to spread these crazy ideas? You know, mass produced, high-tech tools that exemplify the benefits of capitalism and a market economy. Shouldn’t you be in the forest sending smoke signals?
            This statement demonstrates you understand nothing about economics: “Which comes first, product or demand? Economists would have us believe it’s demand.” Citation, please? The whole point of supply and demand analysis is to arrive at the equilibrium condition, a market-clearing price. A price in hard money. Demand does not “come first” any more than supply. They exist simultaneously (simulaneous equations, high-school frickin’ algebra). You can only reach this equilibrium condition with money — the market clearing price — and not with infinite barterable quantities of fixed goods or services. Money is as old a remnant of civilization as there is and absolutely necessary for human development of any kind. 

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