Nepotism: ‘The Rich Man’s Burden’

It’s blindingly obvious that, in today’s day and age, experience is essential in securing a job and increasing the prospect of a sound financial future. A barren CV is about as appealing to a potential employer as a string of convictions, a point made abundantly clear by the PAIS Department’s careers speeches. Consequently, every student knows that there comes a time when you must put down that can of Stella and embark on a quest for work experience.

However, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not easy getting paid work, whether it be interning with large accountancy firms or simply working in a local shop. The onset of the financial crisis in 2008 placed jobs at a premium, and, despite a large fiscal stimulus and the promise of job creation under Brown’s Labour, unemployment is predicted to hit 8.8% this year. The promise of austerity measures looming from the incumbent government further signals that it will be tougher than ever to secure employment, even for graduates.

So how do students overcome this? Unless you’re willing to join the burgeoning ‘slave-trade’ of unpaid interns, the logical step is to utilise your connections. Often, the easiest way to get into an industry is via the backdoor, working on the assumption that you know someone with a key. As I write this, I’m attempting to orchestrate work experience in Lebanon through a contact of my father’s. There’s no official interview process and I’m fully aware that my most preeminent credential is that I am my father’s son.

This is patently unfair, for reasons that are simple and well understood. My future employment prospects will be improved as a direct consequence of an accident of birth, something that liberal philosophers and statesmen have been arguing against for centuries. So, if nepotism is so obviously unjust, why does it continue and why am I still going to grab this opportunity with both hands?

Nepotism has a long cultural history, grounded the traditional ‘family business’. Since a universal academic education is a relatively recent phenomenon, most people throughout history have been condemned to follow in their father’s footsteps. Education had to be granted somehow and, without formal institutions, the most logical way was to teach your own family what you knew. As education became universal, however, the possibility of using external contacts in alternative sectors became more viable. This by no means excuses it today, but certainly helps to explain why it is so engrained in our culture.

Since the education of most once rested on knowledge held within the family or close friends, nepotism was not restricted to the rich ‘Bullingdon Boys’ being chaperoned into research jobs at Westminster. Although there is no doubt that the rich benefit disproportionately due to the well-paid jobs they can arrange, the problem is not with nepotism in itself, but rather an asymmetry between connections available to the rich and the poor. But if it is the result of preexisting structural conditions and outside of my control, is it really so wrong to use it?

By accepting that nepotism is not intrinsically negative, it is possible to cease flogging the dead horse of anti-nepotistic sentiment and instead focus upon connecting those who are underprivileged. Why should anyone give up an opportunity on the moral grounds that it is not available to others? You wouldn’t refuse treatment on the NHS because there is not yet universal access to free healthcare.

But we should be pursuing programmes that channel bright young people with potential into career paths with potential for advancement. Large retailers such as Sainsbury’s and John Lewis already have systems which enable sales assistants to climb the ladder to management. However, there needs to be more state intervention allowing young people access to opportunities.

We have a duty to use our connections. The advantaged cannot aid the disadvantaged by denying themselves the fruits of their fortune. Instead, they should be using this opportunity to generate tax revenues to redress the balance. In principle, taxing the rich to improve the welfare of the poor is as fundamentally entrenched as the sovereignty of parliament; I see no reason why it cannot be achieved.

So, take the job at the accountancy firm that Daddy arranged for you, but don’t waste it. Social responsibility requires us to harness the powers of capitalism to enfranchise the deprived, so work hard and prosper. Understand that Stan Lee had a vision when he wrote “with great power comes great responsibility”: you have a duty to those less fortunate.

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