Nepo Babies and the Myth of the Meritocracy

Yves here. I hate to be a stickler, but meritocracy has always been a myth. See the 2007 Conference Board Review article Fit v. Fitness for a long form explanation. But for reasons of legitimacy as well as performance, it’s important to make a least a genuine attempt to operate important institutions along meritocratic lines. When I was a kid at Harvard, applicants who thought they would be legacy admissions were turned down. I can’t imagine that would happen now. Harvard and many other “top” schools have become hedge funds with educational subsidiaries. And the fact that the top 10% have become very successful as making sure no one outside their class is welcome, even in entry level roles, is painfully obvious.

I find it hard to get exercised about the idea that Hollywood is not meritocratic, given the long history of the casting couch and many famous examples of children who grew up in or very adjacent to the business doing well….and almost certainly better than they might have otherwise. Liza Minnelli. Nicolas Cage. Jane Fonda. I don’t see Hollywood as having those pretenses. Elite schools, which are an entry ticket to the power centers of America, are a different matter.

By Sonali Kolhatkar, an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

There is a common feeling that many of us have experienced in professional or academic environments, especially when we struggle against gender or racial bias. It’s called “imposter syndrome”—the feeling that one doesn’t deserve one’s position and that others will discover this lack of competence at any moment. I felt this way as a female graduate student in a science field in the 1990s. I felt it as a young journalist of color in a white-dominated industry.

The rich and the elite among us appear to feel the opposite—that they are deserving of unearned privilege. A recent series of stories in New York Magazine headlined “The Year of the Nepo Baby” has struck a chord among those who are being outed for having benefited from insider status. Nepo babies are the children of the rich and famous, the ones who are borne of naked nepotism and whose ubiquity exposes the myth of American meritocracy. Nepo babies can be found everywhere there is power.

The New York Magazine stories have predictably generated defensive responses from nepo babies. Jamie Lee Curtis, actor and daughter of famed Hollywood stars Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, wrote a lengthy post on Instagram defending her status. Although she admitted that she benefitted from her parents’ fame—“I have navigated 44 years with the advantages my associated and reflected fame brought me, I don’t pretend there aren’t any”—she also clapped back at critics, saying she was tired of assumptions that a nepo baby like her “would somehow have no talent whatsoever.” Curtis went further in claiming that the current focus on people like her was “designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt.”

Curtis is clearly a talented actor, of that there is no doubt. But, in defending her privilege from critique, she reveals just how deserving she considers herself. It is the converse of imposter syndrome—the insider syndrome.

The act of calling out nepotism doesn’t necessarily imply that nepo babies are not talented. (Nepo babies are sometimes talented—and sometimes not.) It means pointing out that some talented people are able to benefit from family connections and fame that other equally talented people are not able to.

The critique is intended to call out elitism, not “diminish,” “denigrate” or “hurt,” as Curtis accuses journalists of doing. Journalism that exposes power and its corruptive influence among elites punches up, not down. Curtis is hardly a disadvantaged person whose well-being will suffer from such coverage. Rather, stories pointing out her parental advantages could potentially help to even the playing field so that it is unacceptable in the future to consider family connections in film and TV auditions.

Recall the college admissions scandal of 2019 when it was revealed—again through good journalism—that wealthy parents like TV star Lori Loughlin used all the power and money at their disposal to bend the rules of elite school admissions for their children. Many of those children may well have deserved to get into the schools they attended. But, in the face of stiff competition, untold numbers of equally deserving youth who did not have powerful and wealthy parents willing to break rules were not admitted. Now, many of those same nepo babies’ parents who were tried and convicted are using their money and connections to win shortened prison sentences.

But Hollywood celebrities, however much they enjoy prestige and privilege, are an easy target. Nepotism is rife in all the halls of power—in the world of art, sports, and even journalism, and especially in corporate and political circles.

Billionaires (especially those in tech) may propagate the myth of the merit-based American dream, but some of the most dramatic success stories began with a parent using their wealth or connections to give their child the upper hand. Take Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who became one of the world’s wealthiest people in his 30s. Gates’s early success was largely due to the well-documented connections that his parents flexed on his behalf to get his fledgling company off the ground. Other tech nepo babies include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose father loaned him $100,000 to start his company, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose parents were early investors in his online retail business to the tune of nearly $250,000.

Nepotism is part of the fabric of capitalism. For centuries, unfair advantages were available to those who have historically faced fewer hurdles, through the sheer luck of being born into a family with wealth, connections, or respect within their field. Indeed, in order to beat back the imposter syndrome, many advise channeling the unearned confidence of a mediocre straight white man.

Our economy is rigged to encourage nepotism by ensuring that the already wealthy pass their wealth—and by extension the power that their money buys—to their children. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out how the tax code is written in order to benefit the moneyed classes. According to a CBPP report, “High-income, and especially high-wealth, filers enjoy a number of generous tax benefits that can dramatically lower their tax bills.”

Nepo babies who defend their status reinforce the notion that wealth, fame, and privilege equal brilliance, talent, and genius. The reality is that the privileged among us simply have the means to cheat. The rest of us are sold the lie that working hard will bring rewards—rather than unearned wealth.

This, in turn, encourages cheating among those who cannot rely on nepotism to gain power. One well-known example of the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” approach is Anna Sorokin, a woman whose fabricated lies about wealth and power landed her in prison and made her the focus of a Netflix show. Sorokin faked being a nepo baby—a German heiress—in order to live a lavish lifestyle. Sorokin learned that to gain the edge that moneyed elites have, one must internalize the insider syndrome.

Republican Congressman George Santos, who was recently exposed as a fraud for lying about his work experience, wealth, and even ethnicity, is another prime example. His political party has made a habit of encouraging (real or fake) nepo babies like Donald Trump, who openly admitted to tax avoidance in a debate and whose company was convicted of criminal tax fraud.

The GOP has for years led the charge to protect the interests of the wealthy while insisting on means testingand drug testing for the rest of us to receive benefits.

In truth, the emperor has no clothes. The meritocracy of American capitalism is a myth built on smoke and mirrors, on lies and false confidence. The current long-overdue conversation around nepo babies may help to further class consciousness among Americans who may see a bit more clearly now just how scantily clad the emperor really is.

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  1. pmp

    But for reasons of legitimacy as well as performance, it’s important to make a least a genuine attempt to NOT operate important institutions along meritocratic lines.

    Split infinitives aside, the sentence may need an adjustment

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Straw manning is against our written site Policies.

      If you had a case to make, you should have attempted one rather than trying to falsify what I said. And split infinitives stopped being against standard usage more than three decades ago. My many proofreaders and copy editors will confirm that.

    2. JEHR

      I sometimes think that all institutions which may begin with the idea of being legitimately available to all those people with the desired abilities who can perform certain desired actions, and who do not encourage nepotism or meritocracy, over time become that which they try to discourage. Sometimes, longevity breeds success and thus encourages others to act out of nepotism and meritocracy in order to gain entrance to the institutions or to run the institutions. I include all institutions: educational, financial, political, communications, business, etc. When these “inbred” institutions do not change over a long period of time and when they describe all or most of the institutions of a country then it may encourage revolution of the population. See Egypt, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, etc.

    3. DanP

      Nepotism is a secondary issue. Most occupations don’t take much talent and can be done by almost anyone with a decent education. How hard really is it to be the president of a regional bank? The real issue is wage disparity. If we recognized that being the president of a bank, or a cop (easy 6 figure wage here in Canada) or the director of an NGO does not involve much more work than holding three gig jobs to feed the family, and paid people accordingly, then whether or not daddy helped you get the job would be of little consequence. Sorry PMP, could not figure how to subscribe, so replied to your comment in order to post. I guess some things do take talent after all.

      1. JBird4049

        Nepotism as a problem is worsened by the increasing monopolizing of all ways to have a decent life. The many, many lost opportunities and businesses in all areas including manufacturing, finance, media, transportation, even sports, plus the concentration of wealth makes social connections essential to just survive; while greed and corruption are probably the main reason for nepotism as it exists, desperation is increasingly so.

        Unlike my parents and grandparents who could expect with a little luck, some talent, and a lot of hard work, a good life, who can expect that today? Several generations ago, nepotism was a serious accusation, but the costs of it to society as well as the growing costs of not using it for individuals has increased.

  2. GramSci

    «Discrepancies between low personal incomes and very high personal incomes should be lessened; and I therefore believe that in time of this grave national danger, when all excess income should go to stopping the pandemic and climate change, no American citizen ought to have a net income, after he has paid his taxes, of more than $25,000 a year.»

    — Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    Message to Congress, 27 April 1942

    Ok, FDR didn’t say “pandemic and climate change”, but mutatis mutandis, the principle holds: FDR’s $25,000 is somewhere around $500,000 today.

    1. Objective Ace

      The link between income and wealth has been bastardized since this statement was made. Part of the problem is what most people consider income – unrealized capital gains, rent etc. – isn’t actually income according to the tax code.

      1. John Zelnicker

        OA – Unrealized gains don’t count as income until realized, and they shouldn’t be since they are not spendable, but rent is definitely income in the year received according to the tax code.

  3. Henry Moon Pie

    I don’t know how different it was in the past. Fifty years ago, nearly all college admissions letters arrived shortly after April 15. At the Midwest prep school where I attended high school, as the letters came in, there was a great deal of excitement with everybody sharing where they got in. On our big day, our class landed four at Harvard. When one of our English teachers, a recent Williams grad taking a teaching deferment from the draft, heard which four, he had a question about one student whose family’s name was on half of our prep school’s buildings:

    Joe got in? I didn’t know Harvard needed a new swimming pool.

    Not surprisingly, that was that teacher’s last year at the school. And actually, Harvard could have used a new indoor swimming pool at the time, especially since everybody HAD to swim 50 yards to start their undergrad career.

    I’d say Harvard was pretty smart. That guy is worth somewhere in nine figures now, and has donated a lot of money to Harvard these past 50 years.

    1. Heraclitus

      Your classmate’s decades long experience as a milking cow for Harvard begs the question, ‘Was it worth it for him?’

      The modern fetish for credential stacking stands in contrast to the practices of a hundred years ago, when a college degree was considered a disqualification for real work. Even forty years ago, nobody cared where rich people went to college, at least their families didn’t, outside of those from certain Northeastern enclaves.

      The Ivies are overproducing elites these days–and probably for the past fifty years. It seems to me that as they’ve become more important in the employment ecosystem for big finance and even big tech firms, the lure of the Ivy and Ivy equivalent degrees, particularly undergraduate degrees, has grown. The majority of Ivy graduates, however, don’t get these jobs. But they get the debt they acquired to get the degrees.

      The result is that these firms claim to be devoted to diversity, but end up being intellectual mono-cultures.

    2. Kouros

      I always found ridiculous the idea that admission to Universities in the States, or Canada for that matter is merit based.

      My youth was spent in Romania, a bastion of socialism. Getting into university involved a series of exams, with the papers totally anonymous (a blacked out corner covering the name of the tested person). Going for forestry, I was tested on algebra, geometry, evolutionary biology and population biology and competed against other 19 kids for a spot.

      I knew of kids of ministers that failed the tests repeatedly. My topography prof’s kid got into school by the only back door available, passing the exam to the easiest entrance faculty exams (mining engineer) and after a year of school got transferred.

      Medicine was a bitch. Here in Canada, it pays dividends to be a kid with parents doctors. Over there, kids of doctors were cursed if the parents would want to push their kids into medicine and the kid was not performing. I heard stories of kids trying 6 and 7 times to get into medical school (that means 6 or 7 years of life wasted in preparations).

      I heard that in China, those who can’t, but have money, go to undergraduate in the west, ’cause admission exams are tough…

  4. Regis II

    “The current long-overdue conversation around nepo babies may help to further class consciousness among Americans who may see a bit more clearly now just how scantily clad the emperor really is.”

    I have long since grown weary of the use of “conversation” in connection with these types of issues. It’s going to take more than a “conversation” to remedy the wrong which the author is discussing.

    Having a “conversation” means that one can complain, but has already conceded that nothing is going to change after the “conversation.”

    The author seems to have adopted the language of her oppressors.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Try having a conversation with Chuck Schumer about something as utterly reasonable as all long-term capital gains over $500,000/year is taxed as ordinary income

    2. truly

      I think I will go on a listening tour to see if having a conversation might change things. May I have your vote?

    3. magpie

      Thank you.

      ”(T)he fight against bad English is not frivolous…”

      I believe ‘conversation’ in this context falls into the Meaningless Words category in the catalogue of swindles and perversions.

  5. begob

    In defence of Nicolas Cage, he is humanity’s only means of embodying the concept of “bonkers” on the silver screen.

    1. Bugs

      And he chose to not use the family name to avoid perceptions of nepotism. His cousin the director is a good example of one though. She’s made perhaps two good movies in a long and pretty lucrative career.

      Today is Nic Cage’s birthday, btw.

      1. jhallc

        Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Some of them spit it out, others undeservedly use it to shovel in as much opportunity as they can. They run the spectrum from folks like Nicolas Cage at one end to Hunter Biden at the other.

      2. tevhatch

        He choose to hide his family connection from the public, but how would we know if he didn’t take advantage of them? He might not even know if he didn’t take advantage of them, that’s the thing about being in or out of the birthright club. If he was famous as the best professional diver in the oil industry, then yeah. Otherwise I see it in the area of Kagan and Nuland, who don’t share a family name, but it would be more transparent if they did, which is probably why they don’t.

    2. Carolinian

      Nicholas Cage ne Nicholas Coppola. Perhaps his talent is the exception that proves the rule. One could also point out how often legacies are overshadowed by their famous parents and wind up with failed lives.

      But, to climb on board a familiar hobby horse, it’s only natural for parents to want to promote their genes and offspring as that’s how we are wired. One could argue democracy itself is an attempt to break through this persistent trend. Surely, if nothing else, we can at least admit the truth of nepotism and its frequent failures, results wise. By doing so you’ll be taking on some of the most powerful people on the planet.

  6. JB

    Heh, maybe I read some of those articles before Christmas and internalized it, but ended up having a (drunken) discussion with my brother about this, over Christmas: We both made it into a prestigious secondary (high) school in Ireland, due to my mam exercising a lot of persistence during my brothers enrollment, and then me getting in on account of my brother :)

    Was a bit wasted on me (goofed off playing games instead of doing school stuff, have done well working in games since) – but for my brother, meeting people who have gone to the same school has proved crucial career-wise lately (which I don’t criticize one bit: he had a shit time after the 00’s recession, and had to start his career over).

    Trying to point out that, while we should absolutely get ahead ourselves, we should still remember where we come from (pretty working-class background) – and that nepotism harms folks from our background overall even if it can help us individually – did get acknowledgment of the nepotism, but led to a very Upton-Sinclair-quote-worthy insistence that it was impractical to stop nepotism, coupled with a lengthy argument of ways of me describing how it could be stopped, drunkenly drawn out way too long :) (my fault, that)

    It’s rife in Ireland, in various forms, in any case. I would be interested in reading about regulatory means of detecting/stopping it (e.g. I reckon businesses having to document their hiring process and potential hires, anonymized and submitted to an online system, documenting characteristics of hires that would be of interest and/or indicate a potential conflict of interest – could be used to sniff out signs of nepotism through simple statistical analysis).

    One thing I wonder about though, is how likely measures against it are likely to leave wealthy/well-off families unscathed – while closing off an avenue of exploitation for achieving social mobility, in less well off families (not a reason to not fight it, of course).

    1. Objective Ace

      Nepotism is a weird concept. Based on your description of your mother needing to be persistent, it sounds like she wasn’t all that powerful, ie. Not nepotism.

      The reality is, ppl have always recieved unfair treatment, and whether you get out of a DUI because the town sherrif happens to go to your church, or because you donated a couple grand to his campaign doesn’t really matter. The unfairness is the same. What’s changed is inequality levels. The unfairness is becoming more and more concentrated in the hands of a few. In your case, there’s probably less opportunities to get ahead by being persistent

      1. Paris

        Exactly. There has always been nepotism, the problem today is that it got out of control and the stakes are so high, i.e., these people make so much money out of this.

        1. CountZero

          Nepotism simply points to a key dimension of how class works — capital is reproduced through family networks and down through generations.

  7. bassmuleb

    “The GOP has for years led the charge to protect the interests of the wealthy while insisting on means testingand drug testing for the rest of us to receive benefits.” Wait…I thought means-testing was a Democrat invention?

  8. Joe Well

    I wonder how well the topic of family connections in careers has been studied, because anecdotally, there seems to be nepotism all the way down in our society. Just look at any city government’s maintenance department and how many had older relatives in the same department.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Likewise with some trade unions, especially in the construction trades: “fathers and sons.”

      1. Objective Ace

        I doubt that’s nepotism. Probably moreso “grooming” being around the father and learning from his experience his whole life. Look at Payton Manning. If he obtained his position through nepotism it would have been immediately obvious that he couldn’t hack it in the NFL. Instead he’s a surefire hall of famer

        It’s an unfair advantage, but it’s not nepotism

        1. bdy

          Not sure NFLPA is analogous to trade unions.

          My experience from the nineties in NYC: crossing picket lines in a non-union crew as skilled labor (finish construction, higher end and yes, we knew what we were doing). When “Betrayal” or whatever else was thrown around the response was always “Yeah, you’re right man. Sign me up. I’ll put down my toolbox and join you in line.”

          In reply: a narrow spectrum ranging from “Eff you, scab,” to “It ain’t that simple…”

          People do what they can and everybody gotta eat.

          1. Objective Ace

            Agreed, I was thinking about getting into the trade in the first place. ie. if your dad is a plumber or carpenter theres a much larger chance you end up being a plumber or a carpenter. And there’s obviously a much higher chance of a plumber ending up in a plumbing union then a non-plumber. That’s what I was referring to. I’m sure your right, though, nepotism is involved in many instances as well. Depends on the union though — some are having difficulty finding any workers right now given the labor force constraint

          1. Objective Ace

            Thats coaching, not playing. If someone were playing in the NFL simply because of nepotism they legitimately might end up in the hospital and the result on the field — picture your everyday Joe getting ran over by a 265 defensive end — would be apparent. As a coach, the result is just a 6-10 season which can be chalked up as unlucky or just bad selection for other reasons by the owner

  9. Pat

    I was in a sort of family business, but surprisingly my entree came from connections I made in college. And no one who might have known my grandfather or uncle while they were alive ever knew of the connection. But if I had wanted to be employed in their department/area of the business about the only way I would have had a chance at that time would have been to try to ply those connections. And these weren’t jobs that are being discussed by those talking about nepo babies, mine or theirs. They were unionized trade jobs that involved working with your hands.

    I don’t have any real answers about how to make sure that people can find and work at what they want and are good at. Closed doors don’t just exist at the top. For me the real issue is that hurdles now exist that didn’t used to exist to getting the education, and I include things like mechanics and plumbing, to even try climbing the hurdles and storming the doors. That isn’t to say there wasn’t inequality in our education system, just that greed and Ivy League MBA mentality has made it so much worse.

  10. The Rev Kev

    The worse thing that you can say about a Nepo Baby is that they grow up to be a Trust Fund Kid.

  11. Thuto

    The axis of competition has always been insiders vs outsiders, the pretense that it’s the talented vs less talented (aka meritocracy) is sustained by a cottage industry of self-help gurus who sell the “anyone from anywhere if they’re willing to work hard enough can make it” brand of motivational talk, and industry publications that fetishize the outlier achievements of e.g. young tech founders by attributing their successes to rare, innate genius alone. While insiders (or their children) can be just as talented as any outsider, It’s the apparent unease with acknowledging the role historical contingencies (country of birth, status of parents, race etc) play in the individual success stories of insiders that is hard to fathom. I suppose stories of young trailblazers shaping the future with nothing more than a groundbreaking idea and a whole lot of tenacity and grit make for better reading in a best selling memoir (and certainly sound more exciting for adaptation into a Netflix series). In the end, I guess the incentives that tempt people to rewrite their histories when they reach the top are incompatible with the humility required to acknowledge that one’s advantageous circumstances might have played a role in their success.

    Take Silicon Valley for instance, those who cover it peddle the story of a bootstrapped meritocracy where influence peddling and patronage networks are non-existent, and capital flows like champagne at a lavish party to any founder with a brilliant idea. Yet, in their unguarded moments, the roll call of tier one VCs who fund the future let slip that they rely heavily on “warm introductions” and “pattern recognition” (aka bias) to make their investment decisions, so any hoodie wearing ivy league dropout with a stint at google/facebook (fits pattern of investable founder) with a half-baked idea introduced through the VCs network (I.e. by an insider) is in with a shout of getting a term sheet. To maintain this facade and prevent their access to the movers and shakers of the tech world being revoked, those who cover it have to blow a whole lot of steam and polish a few mirrors to keep selling the dream.

    1. juno mas

      Bill Gates was a non-hoodie wearing Ivy League dropout. No computer training whatsoever. Luckily entered the nascent PC business with a castoff operating system and some glitchy software. When others offered better software he used the skills learned from his corporate attorney father to sue them for a tenuous form of patent infringement. He ended up controlling a huge portion of PC op/sys market.

      He now goes around the world telling others that he knows best. Moneyocracy at work.

      1. Acacia

        It also helped that his mother, Mary Gates, was on the executive committee of United Way of America, along with John R. Opel, then-chairman of IBM. On many accounts, she discussed son Bill’s business with Opel in 1980, who then talked about it with other IBM execs, and a few weeks later IBM made the decision to use Gates’ MS-DOS as the software for its entry into the PC market. Gates didn’t actually write MS-DOS, but when he learned from his mother that IBM needed an OS, bought it on the cheap from another company, rebranded it (from QDOS to MS-DOS), and licensed it to IBM.

        Does this qualify as nepotism?

        P. S. The same little turd of an OS still lives on in every install of MS-Windoz, and sometimes you have to invoke it, in all its 1980s splendor, to unhose something.

        1. playon

          Your last sentence is a great argument for switching to Linux.

          Bill bought QDOS (which I think was an open-source platform at the time?) for $50,000.

          1. Acacia

            I’ve heard different numbers, but according to James Wallace in Hard Drive (1993), Microsoft paid a total of $25,000 to Seattle Computer for QDOS. I don’t believe it was open source, as it was being sold as the OS for Seattle Computer’s own hardware.

            Agree on Linux.

      2. Objective Ace

        Bill Gates went to a private school which was one of the first in the country to have a computer terminal in 1968. He had a jumpstart on nearly everyone his age. He may have had no formal training, but he had plenty of programming experience as a teen before he went to college

      3. begob

        My understanding is that Gary Kildall sent out his DOS system to California’s computer geeks for review, expecting feedback to help him with improvements. When Kildall failed to reach a deal with IBM at a meeting set up through Gates’s mother’s connections, Gates pinched his copy of the system and got a grunt to gussy it up for 20k, whereupon Gates presented his version to IBM. Ironically, the presence of DOS was detected by one of Kildall’s employees when IBM sent the resultant system out for review, and Kildall sued. Given the lack of copyright protection in the ’70s, Kildall reached a settlement in which his system would compete in parallel with Gates’s. He seems to have misgauged the price of his – apparently superior – system and went down in flames.

  12. Wukchumni

    Probably the only nepotism angle which is truly justified, might be pro sports athletes, it isn’t as if they can fake it to make it, or really need connections… Patrick Mahomes comes to mind.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Ken Griffey, both Senior and Junior, also come to mind. Any other sports fans care to chime in?

        1. Kurtismayfield

          The sad part was that Barry didn’t need the steroids, he was a first vote hall of Fame player before the steroid era. Would he have reached 800 HR’s?? No way.. but probably 700 if he stayed healthy. He was a fantastic all around player for a decade before steroids.

          But the steroid era took the possibilities of normal performance away.

      1. John Wright

        Baseball’s Barry Bonds, son of Bobby Bonds, was arguably better than his father, even before Barry’s steroid boost.

        Some sports, and some portions of academia, may be examples of a purer meritocracy in society.

        I suspect that much human history (royals, inherited titles, family/religion/class connections) indicates that largely meritocratic societies are very exceedingly rare.

        Perhaps that is why some widespread, easily accessible, sports are celebrated, the players have truly exceptional talent that is undeniable to all.

        1. Wukchumni

          Baseball cards are a great Baedeker in seeing who turned into a bobblehead, Barry’s rookie card as a Pirate he looks lean and determined, later on it was depending on which Rx were determined best.

          1. juno mas

            Anabolic steroids do not necessarily make an athlete a better (or bigger) player. What they do is allow an athlete to recover quicker from an injury or workout. Developing an athletic skill takes intelligent practice. Some games require acute hand/eye coordination, like baseball. Steroids don’t improve eyesight.

            Given all the injury downtime in pro sports it seems managed steroid use would keep more players on the field/court. Great for the fans.

      2. Bob White

        I will throw in some hockey players… there were/are a lot of really good ones, too.
        Stanley Cups and All-stars all around – here are just a few.

        Gordie Howe -> Mark and Marty Howe (all 3 played together in 79-80)
        Bobby Hull -> Brett Hull
        Keith Tkachuk -> Matthew and Brady Tkachuk

        Many from the Sutter family:
        1st Gen:

        2nd Gen:

        There are countless brothers and cousins, too.
        I think it is a bit more cultural with hockey, especially in Canada (eh).

      3. Bob White

        Here is an odd one that crosses genres…

        Dennis Rodman has a daughter Trinity Rodman who plays professional soccer (aka football)
        She is quite talented, and only 20 years old.

    2. Doug

      Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, sons of Archie Manning. Having three NFL quarterback stars in one family is almost beyond belief.

      1. tevhatch

        We should discount having access to the same coaching and training that made Pop a star in the one position where knowledge and non-inherited skills are most important? Bowlers in cricket are another position famous for family dynasties.

          1. tevhatch

            Did his son or two daughters even try to follow him? On the other hand, a search for professional bowling family does pull up matches.

      2. MT_Wild

        Height is highly dependent on genetics and a requirement for an NFL quarterback.

        So family business aside, they had a literal leg up on the competition.

        1. Objective Ace

          But nepotism doesnt mean “leg up”. It means succeeding based on power, ie not a meritocracy. Whether Payton and Eli succeeded because of genes or better coaching is irrelvent. The point is, you cannot succeed in the NFL based on nepotism. Imagine Elon Musk or Bill Gates trying to get away from a 300 lb defensive end. There’s no plausible arguement or justification that they deserve to be on that field

      3. Bob White

        Archie has another son, Cooper, who was a great receiver in high school (with Peyton) but had an illness. He has a son Arch who is a top-notch high school QB (all 4 went to Newman High – the best in New Orleans). Seems like a little “genetic nepotism” at work…

      4. foghorn longhorn

        Don’t forget Cooper, he was on his way to being a professional receiver before a neck injury forced him to quit playing.
        His son Arch is the top high school qb in the land.
        Pretty talented family.

    3. Vodkatom

      Is inheriting a successful family business also justified nepotism. Do the kids deserve it any less than a stranger buying it on the retirement of the founder? On the talent question, they could have learned the ropes being around the business. Also they could fail. So their success is not guaranteed, but it’s a heck of an advantage.

      Does society have an interest to prevent this?

      1. tevhatch

        If the successful family business is built with political capital manipulation of the market and monopoly power, then yes.

        1. Vodkatom

          That’s the million dollar (billion dollar?) question. From a policy perspective, when does personal wealth translate into undue political power?

          I’m reminded of all the efforts by the Gallo wine family to make estate taxes favorable to family dynasties. I’d agree society has an interest to stop that.

        2. Vodkatom

          That’s the million dollar (billion dollar?) question. From a policy perspective, when does personal wealth translate into undue political power?

          I’m reminded of all efforts the Gallo wine family to make estate taxes favorable to family dynasties. I’d agree society has an interest to stop that.

      2. Skip Intro

        Or working as a coal miner like your father and his father… or cop. In general, family connections offer a path of least resistance across the board, though not necessarily beneficial. It is most concerning when the advantages are so exceptional.

    4. Tom Doak

      Oh, there is absolutely some nepotism in these sports family connections. On draft night, where you have to make some educated guesses about how a young athlete might mature, you don’t think the kid with a former professional athlete father is going to get a bit more consideration? And that his dad won’t be using his connections to help?

      For every Ken Griffey Jr., there are three Pete Rose Jrs. [total busts] and a bunch of Scottie Pippen Jrs. [hasn’t done anything yet, but some of them might].

      1. Objective Ace

        Maybe — and I’d stress maybe — nepotism plays into draft status or contract negotiations. But on the field — no. Talent is what dictates success in the NFL

    5. Hepativore

      Looking at the Olympics, there is also the fact that in order for an athlete to get anywhere near the competition and the recognition required to be “discovered”, they usually need a wealthy sponsor or an entire group of them to market the athelete and cover equipment and training costs.

  13. Louis Fyne

    Nepotism is shrunk with 2 “easy” changes: tax long-term capital gains as ordinary income and/or roll-back the estate tax laws to circa 1976 – 1984.

    But today’s woke activists would rather have a conversation about muh feelings

    1. Paris

      Actually it’s worse than that. The woke elite, in an attempt to “atone for their sins”, then promote a couple low test score black kids to Harvard so they can feel good about themselves- look, we have black students at Harvard! That’s affirmative action for you.

      1. Paleobotanist

        If only! The rumor in academia is that the Ivy Leagues take foreign, faultlessly well-educated children of African dictators and their henchmen as their black diversity students… Not slum kids. I don’t know if this is true, but I have observed many foreign colleagues of very well off and educated families with the best education and CV that Mummy and Daddy can arrange and buy for junior claiming to be and being accepted as diversity hires. I fear that honest North American ghettos brats of whatever complexion have very small chances here. I speak as one of these rare ghetto brats who climbed. In academics, at least in STEM, you need a rigorous punishing training starting very early on as a child. It’s as bad as elite sports. It is money and connections that get you this training in North America, not native ability. We are a very long way away from the GI Bill as flawed as it was and excellent state universities with free tuition in a time of cheap living expenses.

        1. playon

          Occasionally there are Harvard students who made it on their own merits and who came from lower-middle class backgrounds. From what I’ve heard it can be pretty lonely for them at Ivy League schools due to the culture clash.

          1. Paleobotanist

            It was. Not Harvard, but somewhere comparable. My classmates were totally clueless about most of humanity.

        2. JBird4049

          >>> We are a very long way away from the GI Bill as flawed as it was and excellent state universities with free tuition in a time of cheap living expenses.

          Funny, how it went away starting in the 1970s, which was followed by the destruction of manufacturing and the rise of the FIRE as The economy; I could almost believe that it was all planned…

  14. Joe Well

    Michael Jordan was almost cut from his high school team, right? How many Michael Jordan’s were actually cut by an unsympathetic gatekeeper? That’s the point of this, the NBs aren’t untalented, just that their talent gets rewarded far more than most people’s.

    1. Arizona Slim

      And Tom Brady was Drew Henson’s backup quarterback at the University of Michigan. After Drew declared for the pros and left Ann Arbor, Brady moved up to the starting position.

      However, the Brady magic that was to come was not obvious in the 2000 NFL draft. He was the 199th pick.

      1. Jeff in upstate NY

        No, Brady was not Henson’s back up. Brady started at UM in 1998 and in 1999 was in competition with the younger Henson for the starting role. Brady eventually won that competition and led the Wolverines to victory in the Orange Bowl.

        After Brady graduated, Henson became the UM starter in 2000. After one year as the starter, Henson left UM and football for the NY yankees.

        This from a UM grad who knows this story quite well.

    2. griffen

      Jordan was cut as a sophomore I believe. In the most excellent series “Last Dance”, his mother chides him to work harder and be determined to not experience such an outcome again. And his stiff competition of trying to beat his brothers at hoops also served to drive him. Even as a senior in high school, it was another North Carolina high school senior who also committed to UNC, that was instead the state high school player of the year.

      Few people remember this about Buzz Peterson, who would be Jordan’s college roommate, but this life long fan of college hoops and all things Dean Smith related know it quite well. Much like a Tom Brady, Jordan is an exception in many ways.

      There are college players starting to filter into the NFL professional ranks, by example, whose fathers and mothers are famous based on what they have done. Colts fan should be seeing double, when Marvin Harrison Junior makes his way into the NFL as a wide receiver.

  15. Objective Ace

    >Rather, stories pointing out her parental advantages could potentially help to even the playing field so that it is unacceptable in the future to consider family connections in film and TV auditions.

    Potentially, or it could result in not considering anyone with family connections at all just because it raises questions at all. A sort of reverse discrimination which we are seeing played out now in plenty of other instances.

    Discrimnation will always exitst. And its good to call attention to it. But I also dont think we can fault those being accused as benefactors of being discriminated against from defending themselves. Those equally equivalent applicants who get rejected from college based on the color of their (white) skin have a worthwhile opinion to add to the discussion

    1. Vodkaom

      I’d counter that god is the ultimate proof of the meritocracy. If ever a self-made man who came from nothing and made it to the top. Surprised they haven’t made a movie about it.

      1. tevhatch

        More like a Trotskyist, the original product has become so bastardised Jesus(es?) would not recognize it and all sorts of disfunction is carried out in his/their name, but bastardisation helped spread it all over the world.

      1. Carla

        Love it. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are two good organizations. I am a dues-paying member of both.

  16. Vodkatom

    Nepotism, connections, the family business are the non- surprising ways the children of the better-off have an advantage in society. Most parents i know want to give their children advantages. I don’t see this going away.

    At what point is it “unfair”? And is the myth (or ideal) of meritocracy the problem? The author’s desired goal is stated at the end. A hope the “ …conversation around nepo babies may help to further class consciousness among Americans…”. It’s hard to disagree is we gave up the ideology of the American dream and replaced it with the ideology of class, we’d have different political outcomes. Such as preventing billionaires.

    My quibble here is the vagueness of “class consciousness” as a solution. Also “nepotism” is not a great description of the problem.

    1. Victor Moses

      Vodkatom – the point at which it becomes unfair occurs when a rich family or families lobby or bribe politicians to lower inheritance taxes, corporate taxes – direct monetary gains accruing to them. It also becomes unfair when paths to monetary rewards and status are confined to certain circles ie Goldman only hiring at Ivies or top law firms looking for ‘fit’ – a term so vague that it lets employers hire people who look and think like them.

      I’m not sure why we cannot move to anonymised resumes/applications and over the phone interviews to increase meritocracy at the hiring level at least.

  17. eg

    With apologies to Shelley, it is capital-P “Property” which is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.

  18. chris

    I don’t think our current state is much different than prior decades, or centuries. What I think is different relative to the recent past is that the penalty for not having those connections is perceived to be much larger. The consequences of not having privileges at all levels are certainly greater now. Even people who are undoubtedly wealthy by all reasonable measures complain about not having the base level of support that a last name like Coppola or Gates or Clinton gives others (e.g., Sidney Sweeney).

    Further down the line, if you’re taking over a plumbing business from your grandfather or father, and they had connections for lower cost supplies, or friendships with different code officials, or simply owned the building that the business is in, you have an advantage over your competitors. If you grow up in a family of lawyers, and you’ve marinated in the language and parties and work your parents did for years, you have a much better idea of how things work than those without that experience. And all of these benefits compound over time. The kids of these people will have even more advantages than the first generation people trying to break in.

    I think where I draw the line is that so many of our leaders have no redeeming benefits besides their family connections. The Cheneys, Bidens, Clintons, Bushs, Gates, Kennedys, Pelosis, etc. The kids and hangers on are all worthless. Their parents weren’t great either. Now we’re stuck with people who can put their last name on a ballot where citizens who know nothing about them besides that they’ve heard that last name before will vote for them. These intolerably mediocre mistakes will further propagate their family legacy in ways that only make life worse for everyone else.over time they won’t be content with being born on third base and thinking they hit a triple. They’ll cry foul if they’re not given the homerun.

    I don’t see a cure for any of this. I’m sure we’ll see Chelsea face off against one of the Obama women sooner or later. I just hope we don’t all suffer to badly on the way there.

    1. Hepativore

      Another thing to consider…we are still coming down from the “high” of the New Deal era, and now things are returning to where they have traditionally been, as the New Deal was a very unusual time period in history, and not the norm.

      The viable avenues in which people can succeed in have narrowed, due to the changing nature of employment (offshoring, insourcing, monopsony, foreign guestworker employees, etc.) so there are fewer “safe” areas of employment for people to follow their parents’ footsteps into, making the stable ones that remain even more lucrative.

      Another factor, is I think that people have gotten used to the idea of a meritocracy because of the economic era mentioned above, and so it makes it even more jarring to the average person when they notice that how much of being successful is dependent on luck, “hard work” notwithstanding. In the past, most societies made no bones about the fact that there was an entrenched and hereditary social hierarchy, and perhaps the fact that it was an official one rather than an unspoken but obvious phenomenon made it easier for commoners and the peasantry to accept as there was no social illusion of “class mobility” in the first place.

      Do not mistake my opinion for condoning class elitism, just that things are not that much different from the way that they have always been, except that now there is no longer any veneer of noblesse oblige, helped in part by the rise of neoliberalism. People tend to frown on open displays of aristocratic privilege when it is not undergirded by the associated pageantry of official cultural tradition.

  19. Wukchumni

    I could have have easy entry in the stock business, a nod from daddy-o would have been adequate and I probably would’ve had the ability to match but frankly stocks & bonds bored me silly, the promise sorry note land, no thanks.

    My dad was all about arbitrage and they say the app doesn’t fall far from the family tree, and so it was for me but in a different way.

    Coins are valued determined by condition and the grading scale goes from 1-70, imagine each 3-Letter-Monte having that many gradations of value, and a veritable shitlode of them were made the last 2,500 years, lotsa IPO’s

  20. Mary

    “There is a common feeling that many of us have experienced in professional or academic environments…“imposter syndrome”—the feeling that one doesn’t deserve one’s position and that others will discover this lack of competence at any moment.”

    Shorter: It’s called Affirmative Action.

  21. carlos munoz

    I have always liked Sonali Kolhotkar.. but she’s a leftist so nepotism is blamed on “capitalism.” Hogwash. Nepotism is coded in the human social genome and has a history as long as the human race.

    1. tevhatch

      Is she blaming capitalism for nepotism, or for capitalism giving nepotism far more weight/power than would be otherwise?

    2. Skk

      Talking about nepotism, Sonali is the granddaughter of S.V. Kolhatkar, founder of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) aka CPI-M.

      So says her bio.

      I’d say he was part of the Maharashtra state level leadership of the CPI that split off and Telegana and Bengal areas were much more foundational. But in 2023, that inside baseball can await another day.

  22. Pelham

    Isn’t a true meritocracy supposed to be a nightmare scenario, setting up an unassailable and ultimately callous and unaccountable upper class? (See the self-appointed Longtermists such as SBF and Peter Thiel.) I can understand the need for true merit, but then these selectees should by various means be kept on a very short governing leash by the rest of us.

    1. Kurtismayfield

      Yes, the original use of Meritocracy was a novel which was written as a warning. Beware of the true meritocracy, as it will be used by the Elites to keep the lower classes down.

      Not much different than we have today it seems.

  23. David in Santa Cruz

    Lousy piece, terrific comments! The author seems to be out of her depth and writes without fully understanding the topic. The Hollywood references are trite.

    An inflation-adjusted tax penalty on all income above $500K annually, doing away with special treatment for “capital gains” above $500K, and a roll-back of the estate tax threshold to inflation-adjusted 1970’s levels would fix the problem of the “Nepo Babies” undue advantages.

    Contrast the USSR under Stalin and Beria with the current CPC regime in China: a society can never — and probably shouldn’t — truly do away with the loyalty of a parent to their child or of our various tribal communities to one another (i.e. region, religion, ethnicity, gender). Rome was built on the notion of filial piety and lasted far longer than communism.

    It is the accumulation of advantage that drags us down. This is where America has failed.

    1. chris

      I agree with you. Specifically, it’s the accumulation of non-academic, non-financial, non-skilled advantage, which when combined with our income disparity, allows people to leverage those advantages well beyond what other people can get. I can teach someone how to be an engineer. I can teach someone how to act politely when around clients. But I can’t teach someone how to have a lifetime of experiences that allow you to effortlessly small talk when trying to raise money or get a new client.

  24. Boomheist

    This article completely misses an understanding of family structure and human nature. It is written as if the nepo baby is somehow a purely Western problem, when in fact the truth is that children of powerful people tend to gain power themselves all over the world. Consider the “Princelings” of China – most of the leaders in today;s China are the sons and grandsons of Mao’s Long March companions. Consider royalty, hereditary kingships, a pattern found nearly everywhere and rife throughout Europe until quite recently. Consider alternative family structures, which, it seems, fall into a few categories many of which seem set up for nepo babies. What about the family structure whereby it is the oldest son who gains the estate and the other siblings must scatter to find their fortune? This video is worth watching: as it argues that family structure lies behind various ideologies, and it may be correct.
    Fathers and mothers want to will their businesses to their children. Farmers, the same. Many Unions are essentially closed shops unless you have a relative already in the union. This situation is everywhere and one might even argue is genetically built in as a means of survival. Who knows?
    But, and this is the important point, “conversations” about this will get nowhere at all. As some other commenters have noted, this problem – children of parents using their parents to get ahead – is everywhere and not even a bad thing, necessarily. One could argue the problem is rather one of distribution and balance, and for that you need to turn to class and income solutions. Yes – raise the social security tax to cover all income; tax capital gains as income including a social security tax; and tax all net income above 500,000 at 90 percent, make public education free, and require everyone to serve two years in national service, military or social service or land clearing or hemping the homeless, and I think the envy of the neop baby might diminish….

    1. Mikel

      “Many Unions are essentially closed shops unless you have a relative already in the union…”

      This factoid has a lot to do with the nepotism in Hollywood as well. It’s hidden in the focus on diversity issues that are only discussed as racial issues.

      It’s also a factor not looked at enough in the downfall of unions in general.

    2. tevhatch

      Is the author ignoring it? or simply writing on the example known best to the author, America (which you, not the author generalized to the West (so one could drag in China?))?

    3. Victor Moses

      Good points. However, income is easily manipulated by the very wealthy. And one can just borrow against stock wealth. Larry Ellison of Oracle fame has borrowed hundreds of millions against his ownership stake without declaring it as income. A sensible wealth tax is always the better option.

      I’m wary about billions of extra money flowing to governments though. They have a tendency to expand the number of people in administration roles without meaningfully improving actual service to the public.

  25. seabos84

    In 2003, age 43, I could used my Redmond SQL self taught limited experience to get junior DBA (Database Administrator) jobs in Southern Cal or the Northeast (where I’m from.) I gambled on career changing with my math degree – to high school math teacher!
    Given that I didn’t have any children, LITTLE did I know about the swamp which was known as ‘education reform’. By 2010 I was in year 5 of that new job, 4th year in Seattle, when I saw Billg, Oprah, and Michelle Rhee on TV discussing school stuff, of which they knew diddlie-doo zilch. When going to Ed! Reform!! shindigs in 2006 +, I had noticed that some of the player$ reminded of my decade in Boston! IF I’d seen that person in Boston, I would have pegged them as someone off the plane from Manhattan.
    Anyhoo, back in those years, digging around on the backgrounds of my Ed-Deform Opponent$, it was quite common that they came from those better neighborhoods than grown-up-on-welfare ME could ever afford. How many times I have seen some Seattle area Democratic pooh-bah, or, Tech Pooh-Bah, bragging about their offspring getting into some kinda Education Policy Doctorate Program at 1 of the Standford – Harvard kinda places?
    While the nepotism isn’t as blatant as many commentors mention – in MY gut, I KNOW there are hella strings being pulled and favors being cashed in among that upper cru$t of the professional managerial cla$e$.
    That well credentialed, well coiffed, experience free offspring of some google-soft-azon exec has soooooooooooooo much whiz-dumb to offer the lowly mouth breathing teachers like me!

    1. chris

      It is interesting to see who is allowed to have opinions these days, isn’t it? Hiring outsiders, getting multidisciplinary perspectives, all that stuff, is great if you’re a CEO with no experience in the business you’re being given the reins to. But for some strange reason, we’d never consider that OK for say medicine or construction. None of these wealthy people would hire or promote a finance planner for their personal portfolio who had never made money. But we’re supposed to believe these damaged rich people with no life experience can easily become congress critters. Mediocre fools are allowed to propose all kinds of things for education reform. But strangely… we ignore what the teachers say they want or need.

      The best example of this is Joe Rogan. The right thinking people of the world have all decided he’s not allowed to have opinions and that he should be muzzled. His millions of listeners disagree.

  26. KLG

    Nepotism had nothing to do with Peyton and Eli Manning leading their teams to the Super Bowl. Twice. Yes, they had the advantage of a father, Archie, who had been an NFL quarterback, but that was not unfair. It was good fortune. What was unfair is that Archie Manning was sentenced to be QB of the New Orleans Saints after his stellar career at Ole Miss. But I do wonder if Peyton was protected from the consequences of his alleged bad behavior while at Tennessee. Story sounds believable to me, and someone worked hard to make it go away. Archie perhaps, according to some reports?

    Political nepotism is the worst. IIRC George W. Bush admitted that he didn’t really have to grow up until he was 40. Nice work if you can get it. He is often identified as an MLB team owner (Rangers). Nope. Title was a gift, something like “Managing General Partner,” or prestanombre (frontman) according to the late, sorely missed Molly Ivins. Who also translated Arbusto (Energy) as “Shrub.” Then Governor, and the rest of a sorry history…Now he is an accomplished artiste! Just like Hunter Biden! Ain’t the world great!

    Anyway, Skip Carey (son of Harry, father of Chip) once remarked that no one objects to the children of lawyers following their parents into the family business but the rules were different for him and Chip. Who nevertheless were/are accomplished sports broadcasters who began in the bush leagues.

  27. spud

    if this isn’t setting up america for a meritocracy/oligarchy, then we do not know what one is.

    this was bill clintons baby. both parties are now responsible for this, not just the GOP.

    Capital Gains Tax Lowered

    The act significantly reduced capital gains taxes for investors in several ways. The top marginal long-term capital gains rate fell from 28% to 20%, and the 15% bracket was lowered to 10%. It also extended the time frame that a taxpayer would need to hold an asset to qualify for the lower long-term capital gains tax rates from 12 to 18 months.9

    Since the act, these rates have changed. For 2022 and 2023, the long-term capital gains tax rate is 0%, 15%, or 20% depending on the income bracket of the taxpayer as well as their filing status. Short-term capital gains are now taxed at the filer’s ordinary income tax level. Short-term is again defined as less than a year.)10

    Caps on some benefits reduced or eliminated their use by high-earning taxpayers.

    The 1997 act exempted from taxation any capital gains on the sale of a personal residence up to $500,000 for married couples filing jointly and $250,000 for single individuals. This exemption applies only to residences taxpayers have occupied for at least two of the last five years. It can be claimed only once every two years.1112

    The Roth individual retirement account was created. This variation on the IRA allows taxpayers to pay into a retirement account using after-tax dollars but withdraw the money after retirement with no additional taxes owed on the contributions or the profits earned on them.13
    The estate tax exemption was raised to $600,000 and was set to increase to $1 million by 2006.14 As of 2022, that exemption is $12,06 million. For 2023, that exempt is rising to $12.92 million.6
    The annual gift tax exclusion of $10,000 was required to be adjusted annually for inflation.15

    For 2022, the gift tax exclusion limit is $16,000.16 For 2023, the gift tax exclusion limit is $17,000.6

    Is the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 Still Valid?

    The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 brought about many major tax-reduction acts impacting low-to-middle-income taxpayers. Much of this legislation is still in place today, though the IRS has implemented many annual inflation adjustments amounts to update associated dollar amounts.

  28. Mr Blackpill

    You’ll be happy to know that the actual right, like the actual left loathes these people. George Santos is famous for being a colossal fraud. Voters don’t ever seem to care when politicians are proven frauds. As long as the clown intones anathemas on Abortion or Homophobes or whatever your pre-digested issue is, they’ll fill in the bubble and vote for them anyway.

  29. Paul P

    Take Steve Jobs as an example, He couldn’t write code, did not invent
    the mouse, the iconic interface, or the internet. Nor the science and economy that made Apple possible. Wealth is a gift from nature and society.
    An individual’s contribution is like a drop of water to the ocean. “Meritocracy”
    includes within it the assumption that value is created by one person and is not a social creation. Our society frames things from the standpoint of the
    individual and blinds us to our social inheritance and nature’s bounty.

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