Rewarding Nepotism

September 23, 2003

Nepotism -- unfair preferential treatment of relatives over better unrelated candidates -- is not only a historically persistent phenomenon but a "natural, wholesome and socially useful" one as well, according to a new book by Adam Bellow, entitled, In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History.

Nepotism has played a large role in regimes ranging from the Roman Empire to Communist China, writes Bellow, and even today, dozens of nations are governed by large networks of families and tribes:

  • In Libya, under the monarchy, so many of the ruling family were involved in politics that King Idris had to open a special concentration camp for his relatives.
  • Dictatorships in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran have been based upon family and tribal pyramids.
  • Of the 50 or so countries of Africa, more than 40 are ruled by particular tribes or family connections.

The United States has traditionally opposed nepotism, and today there are countless cumbersome regulations to enforce a sense of fairness in business relations. But Bellow argues that family talent plays an important role in public and business life. Asian immigrants in Britain, for example, have improved the country's newsstands, dry cleaners, and grocery stores by turning them into "family-run" operations.

Heredity skills, says Bellow, should be rewarded, not regulated.

Source: Paul Johnson, "Thicker than Water," National Review, August 11, 2003; based upon Adam Bellow, "In Praise of Nepotism" (Doubleday, July 15, 2003).

 

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