Who are the nepo babies among us?

By Adrian Wooldridge

02 Jan 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

Nepotism is widely frowned on, yet it continues to thrive. Bloomberg's Adrian Wooldridge looks at two areas that have more than their fair share of so-called nepo babies: entertainment and politics.

The essence of modernity is the replacement of nepotism with meritocracy. The pre-modern world was one of family connections and personal favors. Kings and queens ruled as well as reigned. Families controlled the commercial world. Civil service jobs were handed down to relatives. Oxbridge colleges awarded fellowships automatically to descendants of college founders. The word "nepotism" derives from Latin and was first used to describe the Catholic church's practice of allowing popes to appoint their nephews (who were often illegitimate children) to the College of Cardinals.

The march of progress can be measured by the abolition of nepotism. The Church dispensed with the position of cardinalis nepos in 1692. State bureaucracies introduced open examination in the 19th century. Oxbridge colleges replaced "founders kin" with examination fellows. The rise of big business in the late 19th and early 20th centuries replaced owner-managers with professional business people.

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