This article challenges the still dominant view of the Italian South as uniformly underdeveloped because and regional distorted - clientelistic - political relations prevalent within it. It argues that local and regional politics are crucial to explaining the South's internal economic differentiation and its uneven development since the 1970s. The different clientelist "styles", some of which have proven capable of providing the public goods necessary for economic development, and which are prevalent in the different regions are invoked as explanation for the varied economic performance in the recent period. These contentions are supported through an in-depth study of the role of local and regional political classes in four provinces (L'Aquila, Teramo, Taranto and Lecce) in two Italian regions (Abruzzo and Puglia) between 1970 and 1992. A (qualitative) Rational Choice approach is used to make sense of the apparent paradox of patrons willing to forego the immediate advantages of selective exchanges with clients in order to provide public goods available also to non-clients.