In this article I maintain that until the mid-Seventies the regions of the Italian Mezzogiorno followed a path first of divergence, then of convergence, reflecting a familiar pattern. The main characteristic in the case of the Mezzogiorno, however, is that the convergence phase led the area to a remarkably unfavorable steadystate. Further, I suggest that the disappointing results obtained in the area with numerous richly financed public policies are partly due to the poorer quality of the institutions in the Southern regions. In the second part of the article I discuss recent contributions that associate this failure of local institutions with the short supply of social capital, and that put its persistence down to mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of values and norms that change very slowly over time. In the final part of the paper I briefly discuss the role of economic policy faced with mechanisms of this nature.