The states of the ‘South’, although diverse, tend to be underdeveloped in the political sense: neither authoritative and effective nor legitimate and accountable to citizens. The conventional response of aid donors is institutional transfer : trying to align the institutional configurations of Southern states even more closely with those of Northern polities. This may not be the best approach. The political underdevelopment of much of the South largely results from the ways in which Southern states have been created and political authority shaped through economic and political interactions with the wealthier countries of the North. Political underdevelopment is an outcome of uneven (economic) development. A better appreciation of the nature of these processes could lead to more appropriate policy. History cannot be reversed. But more attention could be paid to the ways in which Northern states currently help sustain political underdevelopment in the South, notably by perpetuating the conditions under which state elites in the South can remain too independent of their own citizens.