This article argues that politics is an independent factor of economic development and does not merely act as an intervening variable between structural (economic, social and cultural) variables and development. Political representatives of developing areas have an interest in sustaining economic development if such a commitment promotes their political career. Even where political intermediation is "clientelistic", it can be in the interest of political patrons to promote economic development - a contention which goes against the conventional wisdom of much of the literature on clientelism. Yet this article argues that a kind of "virtuous clientelism" - "virtuous" because it promotes economic development through the provision of public goods - can indeed exist. The evidence provided shows that this is why some regions of the Italian South have progressed economically while others have stagnated or regressed.