How nepotistic are we?

by on March 23, 2015 at 12:19 am in Data Source, Political Science, Sports, Uncategorized | Permalink

In just about every field I looked at, having a successful parent makes you way more likely to be a big success, but the advantage is much smaller than it is at the top of politics.

Using the same methodology, I estimate that the son of an N.B.A. player has about a one in 45 chance of becoming an N.B.A. player. Since there are far more N.B.A. slots than Senate slots, this is only about an 800-fold edge.

Think about the N.B.A. further. The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. Father-son correlation in the N.B.A. is only one-eleventh as high as it is in the Senate.

Emphasis added by me.  And this:

An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

That is all from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

1 Adrian Ratnapala March 23, 2015 at 12:38 am

Politics does not give us a clean distinction between meritcoracy and nepotism. Politics is a about building networks of influence, and children automatically inherit some of the connections their parent’s networks. Those connections are a genuine “merit” in terms of winning political power.

You might call such network building corrupt, and in Basketball it is. But it is a almost logical necessity in politics.

2 Bob March 23, 2015 at 1:30 am

Nonsense. The network is just different.

3 kerokan March 23, 2015 at 4:15 am

I agree with Adrian. Networks (or coalitions) are immensely important in politics and relatives of older politicians have a natural advantage in holding these coalitions together. For example, the reason Benazir Bhutto took over the PPP after her (assassinated) father was because she was a “Bhutto” and that name allowed her to keep together a network (or coalition) that a non-Bhutto could not.

You can also call such people “focal points” in a potentially destructive game of “who will succeed the old politician?”

4 China Cat March 23, 2015 at 10:54 pm

In politics, that networkedness is a competitive advantage. Going with an unconnected option with the same measure on every other metric means we leave that networkedness on the table to be ‘fair’ to the unconnected option. But if the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, aren’t we obliged to nepotism in politics?

5 Kabal March 23, 2015 at 12:47 am

The back-of-the-envelope calculation for implied nepotism is muddied by assortative mating.

I bet NBA players mate a lot less assortatively than do senators. Like most men, NBA players would not care that much for height and athletic ability in their wives, or babies’ mommas. However, senators, in their younger days, would presumably look for wives from good backgrounds (and thus selecting for high-IQ and high-conscientiousness in the process, which correlate to political success, despite jokes to the contrary).

I don’t doubt there’s more nepotism per se amongst Senators than NBA players, but the lack of assortative mating by NBA players relative to senators in itself would bring the NBA father-son correlation down relative to the Senate.

“If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. ”

Bad players are not always cut, because NBA teams are generally terrible at recognizing efficiency. It’s been better in recent years, but high volume, low percentage shooters are still rewarded with contracts and playing time on the regular. And having a prominent dad does help–e.g. Austin Rivers, who was looking at a possible D-League stint prior to the Clippers trade.

6 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 2:20 am

It’s funny how Jeb is running for President based on his marrying unwisely.

7 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 3:30 pm

It’s funny how Jeb is running for President based on his marrying unwisely.

How is a marriage which has lasted four decades and produced three children ‘unwise’?

8 carlolspln March 23, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Because Bush’s wife is Mexican, and the commenter is a racist.

9 collateral March 23, 2015 at 3:50 pm

She’s a dirty Mexican Papist. Duh!

10 Popeye March 23, 2015 at 8:59 pm

Jeb Bush’s wife is caught smuggling clothes

Jeb Bush’s daughter arrested on drug charge

Jeb Bush’s son John arrested for pubic intoxication and charged with resisting arrest

Police report: Jeb Bush’s son George breaks into ex-girlfriend’s house

11 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Over a period of 40 years in a family with five people in it, you can find instances of less than edifying behavior. Your point is precisely what?

12 Popeye March 24, 2015 at 12:02 am

You’re math isn’t very good, Art Deco. That’s 3 arrests in 6 years… and all while the Jeb was governor.

13 Popeye March 24, 2015 at 12:02 am

…and neither is my spelling.

14 Art Deco March 24, 2015 at 12:19 am

That’s 3 arrests in 6 years…

You’re referring to events which occurred 15 and 20 years ago. George P. Bush got into a fight with his girlfriend in his late adolescent years and his brother got falling down drunk at a similar time in his life. Neither is particularly exceptional for 20 year old youths. There’s an office manager in South Florida named Noelle Bush who has a history (a dozen or more years in the past) of alcoholism and use of street drugs. These things happen in the lives of ordinary people. Your interest in them now is what?

15 arb March 24, 2015 at 12:28 am

It’s obviously because of bad DNA.

16 Popeye March 24, 2015 at 10:15 am

Perhaps you run in different circles than I do, but to me this looks like a record of extraordinary dysfunction. Does Columba’s shopping spree sound responsible to you? Jeb’s children weren’t exactly kids when all this happened. There is a pattern here; this isn’t about one slip-up. These are privileged people behaving very badly.

17 Art Deco March 24, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Perhaps you run in different circles than I do, but to me this looks like a record of extraordinary dysfunction.

No it does not. It looks like a young hothead got into an argument 20 years ago and an young man got drunk 15 years ago. That’s banal and happens in the life of ordinary people. So do arguments between husbands and wives over discretionary expenditures. You know it, I know it, but you in this discussion elect to maintain for effect that ordinary people’s problems and mishaps are indicative of ‘extraordinary dysfunction’.

As for Noelle Bush, she has been abnormally troubled, though not recently (her arrest was 14 years ago for prescription drug abuse). Some people zig when they ought to zag. If you fancy people’s behavior is an uncomplicated function of parental talents, your judgement about human beings is not to be trusted on any topic.

None of this provides an answer to my original question, which was why Steven Sailer, a resident of Southern California who does not know Columba Bush from a cord of wood, fancies Jeb Bush’s marriage in 1974 was ‘unwise’. You’re pretending that passing problems in living of their sons (and somewhat more durable problems in living attending their daughter) discredits their entire adult life. Ordinary people would never make such a judgment, but no one ever said partisan Democrats think about much of anything the way an ordinary human being would.

18 Popeye March 24, 2015 at 11:07 pm

To use Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s expression, you are “defining deviancy down.” Does your idea of “passing problems” in the lives of ordinary people really include customs fraud, prescription fraud, crack cocaine possession, burglary, and resisting arrest? I don’t think that even you believe that these are decent people.

Steve Sailer was being ironic. Jeb is making his bicultural family the centerpiece of his campaign, but he really didn’t marry wisely in the Jane Austen sense. Jeb, a member of one of the most powerful families in the world, married a woman (of at times murky immigration status) from a humble, complicated, and broken family. Her poor judgment has not helped him. Can you imagine Laura Bush (as First Lady of Texas) spending $19,000 on clothing and jewelry on one Paris shopping trip, let alone trying to sneak all that through customs?

Leave it to the Daily Mail to provide some insight into Columba’s background:

Jeb may be a hopeless romantic, but he does not seem terribly wise.

19 sort_of_knowledgeable March 23, 2015 at 2:55 am

Men may not be not care how much their wives can bench press, but they care about looks and athletic bodies are generally good looking.. Use the search engine on condoms and Olympics and you can see there is a lot of associative sex among athletes. And if a woman wants her mate to be taller than her, a tall woman is going to try hard fora basketball player.

20 Anon (for a reason) March 23, 2015 at 8:08 am

As someone who is a high school basketball coach with 4 young men from two NBA players in his program, let me assure you that assortative mating does not always occur in the NBA. We have two in particular that are quite talented, though the smallest players on their respective teams, even though their fathers are 6’7″ and 6’4″.

21 collateral March 23, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Needs more just-so stories. B-

22 JWatts March 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm

I remain unconvinced that Just-So stories are a logical fallacy.

23 collateral March 23, 2015 at 5:55 pm

They aren’t logical fallacies. They also aren’t persuasive evidence. They are just speculative fiction.

24 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 12:54 am

It used to be considered sleazy for a male politician term-limited out of office to have his wife run in his place. George Wallace got his wife Lurleen elected governor in 1966, but there was much scoffing at those backward rednecks down in Alabama.

Now, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is considered the height of feminism.

25 Scott f March 23, 2015 at 9:00 am

Lurleen Wallace was never a Senator or Secretary of State. Granted, this is fame and influence but only the “normal” kind that Jeb and W benefited from.

26 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Mrs. Wallace was a housewife, not a corporate lawyer or elected official, and her schooling was complete at age 16. Mrs. Clinton is a ghastly character, but there is nothing anomalous about her being in public office per se. Mrs. Wallace should have been running for school board in Tuscaloosa.

The one thing they have in common is that both were mistreated by their husbands. The difference between them is that Hildebeeste dishes it out too.

27 jeffhsu March 23, 2015 at 8:41 pm

You need to correct for time period.

28 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm


29 jeffhsu March 24, 2015 at 12:54 pm

The rate of women obtaining law degree over that time period was not constant. Your assumption Lurleen Wallace wouldn’t have gotten a law degree if she was born later is wrong. She was a governor, even if she was mocked by the media and from the South.

30 Art Deco March 24, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Come again? I compared Lurleen Wallace’s actual personal history to Hildebeeste’s actual personal history. I undertook no counter-factual speculation, nor did I make any ‘assumptions’ at all. Mrs. Wallace running for Governor rather than school board or small town municipal council looks silly. Hillary running for Senator did not in and of it self (although running for the Senate in a state in which she had never lived did).

31 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 1:03 am

There were relatively few major league baseball players who were the sons or grandsons of big leaguers until about three decades ago, when Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. emerged as only the best of a wide array of second and third generation big leaguers. I saw the Griffeys play side by side in the outfield in the last game at old Comiskey Park.

Golf has been surprisingly lacking in dynasties, at least since Old and Young Tom Morris at St. Andrews in the mid-19th Century. There are several minor touring pros whose fathers were moderate stars, but not since the 1800s have any father-son pairs each won any of the four annual major championships:

32 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

Golf’s main problem in America, distinguishing it from more mainstream sports like baseball and basketball, is that the skills and background required to excel are wonderful for launching you into easier and more remunerative professions. Smart, calm, calculating, determined, hard-working, not-easily frustrated, and with parents who can afford lots of coaching and green’s fees? There are better options than the tour for you.

33 Moreno Klaus March 23, 2015 at 10:12 am

I thought golf’s main problem is the fact that it is BORING 😉

34 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 10:32 am

Golf’s main problem in the generation of dynasties.

Besides, a major attraction of golf is that it’s “boring.” It’s like beer-league softball for rich guys; the sport is low-key enough to socialize while you do it.

35 Yancey Ward March 23, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Its main problem is like that of soccer- damned fun to play, damned boring to watch others play.

36 Judah Benjamin Hur March 23, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Never mind that soccer is, by far, the most popular spectator sport in world.

37 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Good point: golf is a better accompaniment to a well-rounded life than a life-long obsession.

On the other hand, it’s a pretty nice obsession: no concussions, no knee problems to speak of, pleasant surroundings, etc.

38 Julian March 24, 2015 at 1:32 am

There’s golf elbow though.

39 Phil S. March 23, 2015 at 1:20 am

While it’s not a father-son dynasty, the success of the Molina brothers in baseball is interesting.

Three brothers, all became major league catchers. The youngest, Yadi, is probably headed towards the hall of fame.

40 Ray Lopez March 23, 2015 at 1:34 am

What about those three field goal kicker brothers of Hispanic surname in the NFL a few years ago? Gramatica? What are the odds?

I think also you must account for the fact that fathers tell their sons about interesting professions; that’s not nepotism but networking. If your father salvages old antiques by digging in the ground and blowing up things to find hidden treasures (a TV show I saw) then the son, finding this niche profitable, may follow in their dad’s footsteps (Id.). BOOM baby!

41 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 2:27 am

Identical twins appear to have a much higher concordance rate at athletic stardom than father-son pairs or brothers.

One question is how many star athletes have an identical twin who doesn’t play the game?

Identical twins are relatively common in the NBA (Van Arsdales, Grants, Collins, Lopezes) because inheriting height is so crucial, but they aren’t that common in other sports.

But it could be that one of the identical twins just doesn’t play and we wouldn’t know the star is a twin. It’s not that psychologically implausible that the slightly less skilled twin drops the sport. However, it’s very hard to count what you don’t know about. So, the only identical twin combo I know of where one brother was a star and the other wasn’t golfer Curtis Strange and his twin, who went into business and was just a fine amateur golfer on weekends.

42 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 2:29 am

The right wing party in Poland was led by identical twins until one got killed in that horrible plane crash in Russia. They’d started out as child actors together in a classic movie in the 1960s.

43 JayMan March 23, 2015 at 8:11 am

A very high twin concordance but a much lower sib or parent-child concordance suggest that non-additive genetic variance contributes much to the overall variance.

44 Urstoff March 23, 2015 at 9:25 am

Chris Paul and Cliff Paul

45 Alexp March 23, 2015 at 11:31 am

I was about to say taht.

46 Ryan Cousineau March 23, 2015 at 10:14 am

It doesn’t belie Steve’s point about the preeminence of twins in basketball, but maybe the best twin act in sports is Henrik and Daniel Sedins, who play hockey, usually on the same line, for the Vancouver Canucks. They’re very similar players with very similar stats who have effectively played together since their youth. Their near-psychic ability to pass the puck to each other is often noted.

47 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Good example — some sports are conducive to twins, while basketball tends to be anti-conducive since there are five positions each demanding a certain body type, so often one twin gets stuck playing out of position because his ever so slightly better twin gets the position ideal for him.

48 Moreno Klaus March 23, 2015 at 10:14 am

Just look at cross-country skiing/biathlon… lots and lots of brothers there…

49 China Cat March 23, 2015 at 11:06 pm

Bob and Mike Bryan play doubles tennis.

50 Brian Donohue March 23, 2015 at 8:28 am

How about the Sutter’s of the NHL?

51 Brett March 23, 2015 at 1:33 am

The Senate one is unsurprising. Most Senate seats have very high incumbency rates, turnover slowly, and provide an advantage to name recognition in elections.

52 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 1:44 am

That’s kind of the point of the Senate — it’s named after the Roman Republican institution that was intended to be occupied largely by scions of old families.

53 Bob March 23, 2015 at 1:39 am

Nonsense, it is just genetics! They’re perfectly evolved to be senators. I’d like to see how close the genetics match for profesors!

54 Clover March 23, 2015 at 1:40 am

I have a co-worker who told me he used to be a libertarian when he was in college, a fan of Ayn Rand. But he largely abandoned the ideology when he began working in the Private Sector and saw all the nepotism and general lack of meritocracy. There sure is a lot of it. In the company I work for, it’s expected that the way new people will be hired will be to ask all the employees who has a nephew or son or brother in law who wants a job and then determine which employee has the highest perceived seniority.

55 John Mansfield March 23, 2015 at 8:20 am

Right, nepotism isn’t just for high-status jobs. Out of high school, I had a job with the roofing company where my father worked. Two of my cousins worked there too. Of three dozen men working there, fewer than a quarter were not related to someone else working there. Nephews and uncles, fathers and sons, brothers everywhere.

56 John Thacker March 23, 2015 at 10:44 am

Absolutely. Though it’s also rampant at the Public Sector jobs I’m familiar with (and quasi-public sector areas too, like universities or heavily regulated unions and industries), since favoring your relatives is an extremely common part of human nature. Take a look at a small town police force, for example, or in the Sandhogs union in NYC. At least private sector jobs with too much nepotism can lose out to competitors; hypothetically voting can restrict nepotism in the public sector, but in small town politics one group can consistently stay on top in my experience.

It’s not an argument against libertarianism in my view, since all alternatives suffer from nepotism, and I see many regulated systems as experiencing it worse.

57 Adrian Ratnapala March 23, 2015 at 12:52 pm

It’s not an argument agianst libertarianism, but it is one against Randianism. Or at least it points to the folly of hero worship.

Even if the winds of competition don’t destroy a nepotistic buisiness, that’s OK, because the owners are only misusing what is their own. If some family of quasi-competent small buisnessmen manage to hold on to their hardware store, that’s fine by me. Randians would agree in prinicple, but that’s not what fires them up. Clover’s friend might have had a head filled with Dangy Taggarts and Howard Roukes and then found the world to be full of Homer Simpsons.

58 Floccina March 23, 2015 at 4:51 pm

+1 for this “It’s not an argument agianst libertarianism, but it is one against Randianism. Or at least it points to the folly of hero worship.”

59 China Cat March 23, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Mark Granovetter showed that tight networks are important for getting all kinds of jobs. This is not new.

60 Yancey Ward March 23, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Then tell your dad to stop the practice.

61 Veritas March 23, 2015 at 7:24 pm

What’s wrong with the practice? Perhaps the relatives are better workers? Or perhaps they work harder because they don’t want to be a disappointment to whoever vouched for them….
I think when people think of nepotism they always think of the relative/ friend as unqualified.

Also I always lol when people talk about cronyism/ nepotism etc. as if it is not human nature to reward friends…while I suppose I can see why government is held to a higher standard but it is still funny to me how up in arms some people get about it, senators son uses parents influence to become a politician, inner circle of Dante’s Inferno for them, you win HITT Contracting a big contract and they put a roof on your house, job creation and private businesses do what they want…

62 China Cat March 23, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Yes. Discovery/evaluation costs are low on people you know. They are more efficient to hire (ceteris paribus).

63 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 1:43 am

Quarterbacking has traditionally been quite dynastic, with a large fraction of quarterbacks typically the sons of former quarterbacks or of coaches. That was one of the reasons behind the explosive growth since the 1990s of quarterback tutors — rich guys wanted the kind of personal training for their sons that coaches’ sons got.

If you assume that QB is the hardest and highest position in American sports, then it makes sense that quarterbacks tend to need both nature and nurture to be aligned.

64 Seth Stephens-Davidowitz March 23, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Yes, I did quarterbacks in the 1980s and it is indeed higher than other sports. You are about 2,412 times more likely to be an NFL quarterback if your father was one.

65 Yancey Ward March 23, 2015 at 3:16 pm

You were the head cheerleader?

66 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Thanks. Also, a sizable fraction of the guys who are good enough to be quarterbacks in high school and football but aren’t tall enough or physically outstanding enough to play in the NFL are sons of old quarterbacks or coaches. They got enough reps young enough to be competent despite their limited physical gifts.

Brian Griese is an example of a guy who actually had an NFL career based mostly on superb nurture.

67 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 1:50 am

The weird thing about the Bushes is that they aren’t a particularly accomplished family, nor does anybody think they are. In India, for example, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty goes back to the first PM, so that’s at least something. Plus a lot of voters in India are illiterate.

What’s our excuse?

68 Joe Torben March 23, 2015 at 4:41 am

A lot of voters are functionally illiterate?

69 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 5:46 am

It’s not like George W. Bush was unknown to Republican elites, who knew him as the VP’s alcoholic son. They flew in to Austin in large numbers in 1999 to vet him and gave him the thumbs up.

70 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 3:56 pm

You need to learn the distinction between a problem drinker and an alcoholic. (And a man with no history of divorce or notable medical problems or alcohol-driven career crashes and who has not imbibed in 13 years really does not qualify as either).

71 charlie March 23, 2015 at 9:12 am

Fundraising networks.

72 TMC March 23, 2015 at 9:49 am

Bush 41 was a successful business man, Congressman, Dir of the CIA, and then VP before the presidency.
What’s your definition of accomplished ?

73 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 3:53 pm

He has no definition. The Bush family is a whipping boy for the alt-right because that’s how they roll.

In fact, very few politicians who have competed well in Presidential sweepstakes in the last eight decades come from families accomplished in realms outside of politics and law. The Eisenhowers might be an exception, perhaps the Goldwaters (in a local realm), and the Romneys. The Eisenhower’s time in the sun lasted about two generations; Ike’s grandchildren are quite unremarkable. Other candidates were scions of accomplished families, but worked in family businesses built by others or plugged along honestly working for others. (See William Scranton, Steve Forbes, Nelson Rockefeller). Others were caricatures of the 3d generation syndrome (Ted Kennedy). You had other candidates who were accomplished themselves (Wesley Clark, Robert Kerrey), but that would include George Bush the Elder (and is, any case, not to what he was referring).

74 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 10:25 pm

You should ask GWB himself.

75 Judah Benjamin Hur March 23, 2015 at 3:39 pm

True, they haven’t produced any titans, but they are an impressive family.

The Bush-Walker dynasty has cultivated powerful connections since the 19th century. The Bushes have lots of kids (Prescott had five, H.W. had six) and do a fairly good job of raising them. As much as some people love Reagan, he was pretty much a failure as a dad.

You mentioned W in 1999. By that time he had been sober for a long time and been and was a very popular governor. He was extremely disciplined in the campaign against Ann Richards so he seemed like a safe bet.

I kind of find dynasties fascinating because it’s so damned hard to maintain one for over a century. The gold standard may be the Rothschild family.

Not really a dynasty, but kind of interesting:

76 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 3:42 pm

The weird thing about the Bushes is that they aren’t a particularly accomplished family,

Prescott Bush had a lucrative career in investment banking and all of his sons prospered in one or another business venture. Prescott, Jr (insurance), Jonathan (Banking), WHT (general finance). George Bush founded his own business and prospered in a part of the world where he was a stranger. His 1st and 3d son have had successes and failures. His second and fourth have done quite well for themselves.

77 Floccina March 23, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Name recognition seems huge in politics.

78 honkie please March 23, 2015 at 1:51 am

It gets more impressive when you consider the breeding habits of NBA players.

79 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 2:12 am

It would be interesting to compare legitimate to illegitimate kids’ performance.

My son went to high school with a rare legitimate daughter of a former heavyweight boxing champion of the world. The champ’s got a lot of kids here and there and various other places, but he obviously chose more carefully the lady he married.

80 Dan Lavatan March 23, 2015 at 2:07 am

Are you talking about the US senate or do you include state senates and the general highest international bodies? Properly construed, the state senates are closer to the top of politics since they can call for Article V conventions and pass constitutional amendments – after all it is the states that are united. That said, there isn’t that much advantage to being a senator over a house member. You might be able to get sponsorship more easily but the workload is higher as well.

81 ladderff March 23, 2015 at 11:46 am

When did we start worrying about properly construing things like that in America?

82 David H. March 23, 2015 at 2:12 am

What are your odds of becoming a farmer, conditional on your father being farmer? What about hotel manager? Cabinet maker? Teacher? Surely we don’t want to scream “nepotism” if we find that the odds increase a lot by the conditionalizing. It’s not nepotism, it’s just the case of continuing in the family business, and maybe learning the ropes earlier and more thoroughly than others can. So why would this “family business” explanation not apply to politicians?

83 Clover March 23, 2015 at 2:17 am

Because people want to be in the elite.

84 China Cat March 23, 2015 at 11:19 pm

Ding ding ding

85 Steve Sailer March 23, 2015 at 2:17 am

I use the term “dynasticism.”

86 Slocum March 23, 2015 at 7:36 am

The son of a senator merely going into politics is one thing — becoming a second-generation senator is quite another.

87 derek March 23, 2015 at 10:12 am

Why? Winning an election is partly about the candidate, mostly about connections. As well as the voter’s desire for continuity and stability. The same dynamics that make it easier to get re-elected would apply for an offspring.

88 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Winning an election is partly about the candidate, mostly about connections.

No, it’s mostly about publicity. “Connections” enters into it re fund-raising and suborning reporters. Still, you have to have the skill set. Consider the career of Rick Santorum. He got to Congress the hard way, by unseating an incumbent (who had not, throughout his career, shown signs of being vulnerable). He was one of only six candidates to do that that year. He was a common and garden local attorney from a working-class background. Not much in the way of connections.

89 David March 23, 2015 at 4:43 am

I wonder what the odds are of a single MR posting attracting >10 independent comments by Steve Sailer?

Sadly, probably not as unlikely as one might hope.

90 Anon March 23, 2015 at 5:21 am

Its because he missed out on his calling as a champion dog breeder instead becoming the avuncular racist we all love to hate (hate to love).

91 collateral March 23, 2015 at 3:55 pm

It’s easy enough to predict. If the post has to do with anything requiring an actual knowledge of economics: nil. If it has to do with, or can with even the barest plausibility be twisted into having to do with, race or Jews: 100%.

92 TMC March 23, 2015 at 9:54 pm

So far you’re the only one to mention race or Jews.

93 collateral March 23, 2015 at 10:29 pm

It’s a scavenger hunt:
March 23, 2015 at 2:20 am

94 Dirck March 23, 2015 at 5:34 am
95 rayward March 23, 2015 at 6:17 am

Name recognition. Our elections are determined by the uninformed voter, so name recognition is the most important attribute; hence, the benefits of nepotism. Presidential campaigns go on for several years, but few voters actually know the policy details of the candidates. Themes, yes, but policy details, no. Other than promises of candy for every voter (tax cuts), winning campaigns are based on themes: strong national defense (whatever that means), eliminating waste (waste to one is an essential government service to another), patriotism and piety (beware the politician who wears an American flag on his lapel and carries a Bible under his arm). The readers of this blog certainly have above average intelligence, but the absence of critical reading and thinking skills comes through in many of the comments. The average voter has no critical reading or thinking skills. None. The average voter just wants the politicians to stop their squabbling. Unfortunately, squabbling is what politicians do best. It’s a skill that comes to politicians honestly: they inherit it.

96 Anon March 23, 2015 at 6:35 am

I would have thought much of what you describe could be held as a constant across American electoral history. Now we seem to be possibly facing a dynastic choice between either a second Clinton or a third Bush. In one sense the proliferation of media ought to increase variety but we have never seen such a dynastic stranglehold on politics. As TC noted basketball skills are hereditary, especially height, and indeed something like 70% of Americans above 7feet play basketball. Politicians are drawn from a band which requires an IQ between 115-130 IQ, general attractiveness and the possession of some, but not too much, of the dark triad traits this only narrows the field to 500,000 people. I think it goes way beyond name value.

97 ohwilleke March 23, 2015 at 2:41 pm

I think you are right. Few people with the characteristics needed to thrive as politicians would even consider running. It just isn’t on their radar screen of things people do, and most people both can’t afford (and don’t consider it normal and sensible) to put in the long years of low paying or volunteer jobs as political operatives and low level elected officials that they need to put in to earn their dues and be considered seriously for higher office. Even at the very top, you don’t get paid very much and make a lot of your money only after decades of life in the public sector (usually financed by your economically successful ancestors who made you independently wealthy enough to make the economic sacrifices necessary to get ahead).

Name value and branding plays a part, but perhaps only a factor of two, with the other factor of 4,000 coming from the other considerations I’ve just mentioned.

98 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Politicians are drawn from a band which requires an IQ between 115-130 IQ, general attractiveness and the possession of some, but not too much, of the dark triad traits this only narrows the field to 500,000 people.

Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Steve Forbes, Robert Dole, Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, Paul Simon, Albert Gore, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush the Elder, John Anderson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey have ‘Dark Triad Traits’? Jimmy Carter, Robert Dole, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Mike Huckabee, Hubert Humphrey are ‘generally attractive’?

99 Anon March 23, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Dark triad traits just make you slightly less honest, more manipulative, more concerned with obtaining power than caring for other people, likely to have an exagerative belief in your own abilities etc. So yes i would say it is true of many of the people on your list it’s just a question of degree. As for attractiveness, we have all sorts of politicians from ugly to beautiful but nonetheless most politicians are more attractive than the general public. From your first list that would include Paul, Santorum, Gore, Reagan, Bush and attractiveness may be just regular features plus increased height. I am not suggesting that there are strong prerequisites for the job rather the opposite.

100 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm

So yes i would say it is true of many of the people on your list it’s just a question of degree.

most politicians are more attractive than the general public.

You say it’s spinach.

101 collateral March 23, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Give him a break. Hand-waiving is tough work.

102 Anon March 24, 2015 at 12:38 am

It’s easy to make up contrary lists and accuse people of hand waving.
Its not actually a controversial idea that attractiveness exerts effects on candidate selection and voting patterns,You might consider the work of Alexander Todorov or the relatively well established finding that attractiveness is beneficial in all social situations, even babies are predisposed towards attractive faces. Research on these ‘attractiveness stereotypes finds that people evaluate attractive individuals as more intelligent (Lemay Jr. et al. 2010; Lorenzo et al. 2010; Paunano 2006; Sheppard et al. 2011) and more successful in life (Feingold 1992; Jackson et al. 1995; Webster Jr. and Driskell Jr. 1983). Or a different approach “Beauty at the Ballot Box Disease Threats Predict Preferences for Physically Attractive Leaders” Andrew White Psychological Science

103 Anon March 24, 2015 at 12:42 am

Further is it really your contention that politicians aren’t likely to exhibit narcissism ?

104 Mr. Econotarian March 23, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Elizabeth Warren has a dedicated following. Hillary is going to have a real fight on her hands (again).

105 Ted Craig March 23, 2015 at 6:44 am

Name recognition plays a large part. I’ve seen elections where people with similar names to famous politicians have won. Also, I was once told by a judge that in a close judicial election, the candidate with the more Irish-sounding surname usually wins.

106 John Thacker March 23, 2015 at 7:50 am

Extremely common in many countries. Just look at Canada– Liberal PM Paul Martin and his father (Liberal cabinet minister), Liberal leader (perhaps favored as next PM) Justin Trudeau and his father (Liberal PM), NDP leader and Leader of the Opposition Jack Layton and his father (Tory cabinet minister), etc.

107 Tarrou March 23, 2015 at 8:06 am

Since officer-hate is one of my favorite hobbyhorses, I’d like to note that being a high-ranking military officer is so little a meritocracy it comes in second to politicians. How long will we continue this insane holdover from the feudal days where artificial class divides are held up over professional skill in the most deadly of professions?

108 NPW March 23, 2015 at 11:35 am

Senior officers are essentially politicians who happen to be wearing a uniform. The officers who a politically savvy are more likely to be promoted than those who are talented at war. Occasionally some officers have both skills, but this is rare, and frequently such officers leave for the civilian sector at first opportunity.

I enlisted and eventually went to OCS. Not being a ringknocker and seeing the end of my twenty around the corner, I’m fine with the system as it stands. I won’t make it past 0-3 unless I decide to stick around for 0-4. I can let the ambitious deal with the politics while I make things actually work. The responsibilities of an commissioned officer and an NCO are decidedly different; it is not a feudal holdover of artificial class.

As much as I wish to despise politicians in uniform, I’m forced to admit that war is politics, and those who lead at the top ought to be skilled at both.

109 ohwilleke March 23, 2015 at 2:25 pm

It will end when we start paying generals what we pay CEOs and senior executives of comparably sized enterprises. A senior executive in an enterprise comparable in size and scope to an Army or Marine Division, a Navy destroyer, or a comparably responsible Air Force unit makes perhaps 10% what someone in a comparable private sector job would earn.

The only people talented enough to do those jobs who don’t leave for far more lucrative private sector management positions are people who are in it for the power and ideological commitment to the undertaking. Parenting may be limited in its ability to pass on actual talent to children, but it can be very powerful in influencing a child’s values concerning what constitutes success in life and what is worth making economic sacrifices to achieve in life. Top military officers share those values in a way that few other comparably talented Americans do.

110 Dan D March 23, 2015 at 8:35 am

Career path switching is easy in theory, difficult in practice for many reasons. Each individual faced with a choice in career paths has to determine how much uncertainty and new learning he or she is comfortable with, compared to developing and refining the skills and traits associated with a career path they have had up-close observation of throughout much of their lifetime. If your family had a construction business, or practiced law or medicine, agriculture, or professional sports, enterprising youth already has absorbed a lot of what it takes to understand and be successful in that field, they do not start at the bottom of the learning curve. Some can easily adapt to new challenges and opportunities, others prefer or through various life coping mechanisms channel their work life into familiar fields.

111 dearieme March 23, 2015 at 8:37 am

“The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height”: I did laugh. But it has clarified one thing for me, namely what people mean nowadays when they witter on about “skills”. It seems that they mean “characteristics”.

112 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 9:56 am


This was funny. But I think they mean “abilities.” Skills are almost never a negative, while characteristics might be.

For a lot of things, it’s not that important how you come by the skill.

113 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 10:05 am

“Abilities” might not work either…

114 dearieme March 23, 2015 at 10:41 am

How about “desirable characteristics” or “suitable characteristics”?

115 William Newman March 23, 2015 at 11:16 am

“Qualifications” is close.

116 Jon March 23, 2015 at 9:59 am

While there are hereditary elements that have impact there is also cultural and learned behavior. People who grow up learn behaviors and values from parents. I know quite a few military families where fathers assume their sons become officers. Thus parental decisions on the child’s activities and even types of medical treatments are oriented towards enabling the child to enter that tract after high school.

Likewise children of CEOs observe and follow the behavior patterns that lead to success in this sphere–particularly cultivating relationships, risk taking, and time management.

117 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 10:07 am

+1 for knowledge. It’s a lot easier to break into a field when you know the vocabulary and the basic structure of the place.

118 Brian Donohue March 23, 2015 at 10:50 am

Al Gore was drenched in politics, for example.

119 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 11:26 am

And I note that this isn’t an advantage that goes away once you have that first job – it’s always helpful to have guidance and mentoring about getting to the next level. If your mentor made it all the way, he’s probably going to give you better (and harder to find) guidance about the top rungs of the ladder than the bottom rungs.

Your CEO friend can help you get into Harvard, but a lot of people can do that. Not many people can help you get from a senior executive role to the corner office.

120 ohwilleke March 23, 2015 at 2:35 pm

In the case of CEOs, unlike the other positions mentioned, pure intergenerational wealth transfer probably plays a bigger parent than learned behaviors.

121 Jon March 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

A question that may come to mind—why would the child of a CEO be so much more likely to become a CEO as opposed to “topping out” much lower on the corporate ladder (I am going a little beyond the cited statistics here…)

Another factor is that children often compare themselves to their parents—so a child of a CEO may have the ambition of becoming a CEO rather than just a highly talented CFO or marketing head.

122 Moreno Klaus March 23, 2015 at 10:16 am

That’s true…

123 ohwilleke March 23, 2015 at 2:34 pm

“why would the child of a CEO be so much more likely to become a CEO as opposed to “topping out” much lower on the corporate ladder?”

Because dad left the company to his son when he died, or gave him large holdings of stock in the company while he was alive. Also, once you are a CEO, even of a medium sized closely held company, you now have a CEO job on your resume that allows you to get another one elsewhere and is a legitimate qualification because you now have on the job experience with what being a CEO entails.

124 Lord Action March 23, 2015 at 3:18 pm

How often does this actually occur? I’ve known a fair number of CEOs, and none of them inherited their firm. At anything other than trivial scale, this is hard to do in America because of taxes.

Inheriting wealth might allow you to be more aggressive with startups and such; that I’ve seen up close. But that’s something very different from inheriting a job and a firm.

125 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 6:03 pm

How often does this actually occur?

I’d wager very seldom for more than a generation or two and less often the larger and more successful the business. In my family, there were three sets of successful business foundations. In two cases, they remained under family management for somewhat north of 40 years with two generations of managers. The third set remained under family management for roughly four generations (founder to non-family chieftain to founder’s grandson to said grandson’s nephew) and 120-odd years.

126 ohwilleke March 23, 2015 at 7:09 pm

I used to have a law practice that focused heavily on estate planning and business succession and we arranged this kind of thing all the time. The tax issues are vastly overrated. Most can be easily managed with good planning.

127 Lord Action March 24, 2015 at 11:34 am

Define CEO. Scale matters here.

Also, I don’t doubt this sometimes occurs. I doubt it makes up a significant fraction of CEOs, and I doubt a significant fraction of US corporate value is run by people who inherited it.

128 dearieme March 23, 2015 at 10:48 am

I am dead against nepotism. In principle. But the one time I appointed someone to a job nepotistically he was a roaring success. Apart from luck, possible explanations include: (i) It’s hard to find candidates with the characteristics you want. Actually knowing someone quite well (from childhood, in this case) does mean that you can estimate his likely suitability for the job. (ii) He would be especially keen not to let me down. (iii) There’s also the point that he knew me well and so could presumably make his estimate of what I’d want and whether he could provide it.

129 Bob from Ohio March 23, 2015 at 10:59 am


The author has no idea about the meaning of the word.

Nepotism is when someone gets a job or promotion regardless of abilities because of family or other connections.

A US senator resigning and getting his son appointed by the governor would be an example of nepotism. A son being elected after an intervening period of another person holding the office is not.

A former NBA player holding a General Manager post drafting his son would be an example of nepotism. A son who grows up and becomes a player after his father retires is not.

If my daughter becomes a lawyer like I am, is it nepotism?

130 John Thacker March 23, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Your examples don’t make sense, because nothing in the cases you claim “[are] not” nepotism indicates one way or the other. Taking advantage of family connections can easily happen after an intervening period of time. The son being elected “after an intervening period” still likely benefited from his father’s connections– certainly I think George W. Bush did. I know people whose sons or daughters became lawyers, and had a position waiting at their father’s firm. They’re competent, but it’s hard to say that they didn’t benefit.

At the very least it’s at least a tiebreaker or step up for many people; even if they are otherwise qualified, people will always wonder how much of their success was due to the advantage of connections and legacy. (Just like with, say, affirmative action.)

131 Bob from Ohio March 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm

“had a position waiting at their father’s firm”

That would be nepotism, merely becoming a lawyer would not be.

Being elected is not the same as using your connections to get a job. The electorate is different, sometimes vastly so. For instance, it was 20 years between Al Gore Sr. winning his last Senate election and Al Gore Jr. winning the other senate seat.

132 Art Deco March 23, 2015 at 5:57 pm

There elapsed only six years between Al Gore, Sr.’s last campaign for Congress and Al Gore, Jr.’s 1st campaign, and the latter ran in a district in Middle Tennessee which encompassed his father’s old House district. In 1976, Gore, Jr. was a 28 year old newspaper reporter who had abandoned one attempt at professional school and failed at another (and keep in mind that both parents had law degrees). I’d suggest that name recognition, social networks, and mentoring mattered a great deal in that one case. Also, his mother and father were bound and determined that their son should have a political career (“we raised him for it”).

133 CMOT March 23, 2015 at 11:00 am

A story in the New York Times about nepotism that does not contain the name SULZBERGER is hilariously incomplete.

134 Quite Likely March 23, 2015 at 11:09 am

Makes sense I guess. Politics is a field where what matters are connections and name recognition, both of which are helped immensely by being the child of a successful politician.

135 Fred March 23, 2015 at 11:53 am

It’s far easier to lie to the public than accurately shoot baskets, regardless of genetic heritage.

136 Donald Pretari March 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm

“…1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award.”

The consequences of which Steely Dan outlined in “Show Biz Kids.”

137 _NL March 23, 2015 at 1:45 pm

The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr.

At first this made sense to me, but now I think the opposite is true. Stop thinking of elections as the evaluation method for good policy, and instead imagine that winning elections is the thing to be evaluated. In this way, it’s actually much clearer in politics what your performance is – at least for a couple inflection points every cycle. Of course, there are also polls that are regularly testing all aspects of a candidate’s likability and name recognition, so there is also data available in between elections.

W won reelection in Texas, whereas Jeb failed in his first shot at Florida – that’s one reason W was a candidate in 2000 and Jeb wasn’t. George Allen threw out a racial slur on camera, lost his 2006 Senate re-election, and went from presidential buzz to radio silence. Failure to win elections generally results in being cut from the select list of future contenders. I’m not going to say W didn’t get enormous unearned advantage from his family, but I do think there are some consequences in politics for failures – just not so much for failed policy relative to failed campaigns.

138 _NL March 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

Counterpoint: is politics in some sense fairer because the skills passed on are less about genetics and more about connections, and therefore the parent has more control over moving the legacy to the child? In other words, a parent could decide to bestow networking, endorsements, friendships, and value staffers upon a trusted non-relative while keeping a child out in the cold – which is not an option for heritable traits.

139 ohwilleke March 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm

All of those jobs except CEO have an powerful factor in common. They all involve spending a lot of time in a lifetime career cycle working to perfect your competence in a field when someone with that set of talents could make much more in a private sector business position. Top military officers, athletes, entertainers, and politicians all have to spend many long years when they are voluntarily underpaid relatively to other jobs that they could get, in order to rise to the top of their respective fields. The parental impact is both in making someone value getting to the top in a particular field enough to make that sacrifice and to make it seem realistic to chase that particular dream, and in economically supporting a child while that child is voluntarily underemployed economically for many years.

In the case of CEOs, in contrast, donative transfers from parents to children can explain a lot of the nepotism factor. The default rule is that a CEO of closely held business passes on the business to his children. There are exceptions to the rule, especially in the largest of corporations, but that is the default rule that powerfully influences the outcomes observed.

You would expect to see far less nepotism in positions like engineering and accounting where economic rewards commensurate with one’s talent are received early in one’s career and persist throughout one’s career.

140 Judah Benjamin Hur March 23, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Someone has got to mention the Barrymore family. Possibly the best of the lot in terms of ability was John Drew Barrymore. He was such a f— up, but he was an amazing actor when he was sober enough to stand up and deliver his lines. Check him out in some old Gunsmoke episodes. It’s a shame he mostly wasted his gift. His far more famous dad was in a forgotten masterpiece that I would recommend, Counsellor at Law, directed by William Wyler .

141 M March 23, 2015 at 7:03 pm

You probably have to draw the distinction between

– Nepotism: Where people explicitly favor relatives

– Limited information and limited skills transference:

For instance, very few, in our society, *really* know how high level politics work and what the real alliances are and how decisions are really made.

And politicians don’t really aim to inform people of the real structure, as opposed to boilerplate “This is what it says in the Constitution” type nonsense.

And most people who learn enough find the reality of realpolitick (or what it takes to really be a general, etc.) enormously depressing when they actually learn enough about it and contrast it to their ideals. Politician and general are, in many ways to many people, to decent people, despised castes (as bankers once were, and with as good reason, at least).

So family members end up in politics simply by having actual real genuine information access, and by being dulled to the buzz kill aspects of what real corrupt and messy politics is since birth.

Now a case that would distinguish between the two would be if sons and daughters of people in profession X, who learned about X from their parent, then became members of X at almost as high rates when there was absolutely no way any of their relatives actually hired them.

But this would be a really hard subset to find, where there is absolutely no connection.

142 David C April 5, 2015 at 11:35 pm

It’d be interesting to see how it differs for women, or sons who don’t share the same first name (to see how much name recognition matters). For instance, 1.35% of Presidential children become president. 2.27% of sons do so. And 12.50% of sons who share their dad’s first name (of course, that’s a small sample size).

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: