Thursday, December 11, 2014

Does Capitalism Breed Nepotism?

By now, most people must have heard about the incident in Korean Air that has been dubbed “Nut Rage.”

For those who are still unaware, a Korean Air executive, Ms. Cho Hyun-ah, who is the airline's head of cabin service and the daughter of the company's boss, created a ruckus on one of her company's planes that was headed from New York to Incheon. Ms. Cho had caused a delay in the flight when she demanded that a senior crew member be removed from the flight when the crew member failed to serve macadamia nuts “properly.” According to the story, the crew member served Ms. Cho the nuts in a bag, instead of serving the nuts on a plate.

When the news broke out on social media, justice was swift and terrible. Ms. Cho resigned from her position as head of cabin service, but continued to be an executive at the company. When that failed to satiate the fury of the Internet mob, she resigned from all of her roles from the company.

Justice had been served. Seemingly.

In a way, I can understand where Ms. Cho came from (assuming that the anger was purely based on her disappointment over improper service; and that her attitude having been the result of being her father's daughter did not play any role in her action).

What she did lack was tact. She could have resolved the situation so much more amicably. She could have given a stern one-on-one pep talk. She could have gently reminded the crew member of the company's regulations about how to properly serve food to first class passengers. However, she chose to be as dramatic as possible and turned herself into a symbol that represents everything that people hate about the rich.

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But we have to go back to the question. Does capitalism, indeed, breed nepotism? This question is not without merit. After all, Ms. Cho is her father's daughter.

However, I am disinclined to agree with the statement. I do not think that capitalism breeds nepotism at all.

Firstly, we have to recognize one thing – no matter how much we may talk about individualism, human society has always revolved around the family. Before meritocracy and individualism, children joining the family was standard practice, and in many ways, it still is.

Well, not all family businesses are created equal
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As time has progressed, with social and economic equality becoming more important to many people, nowadays people like to imagine that they are more ambivalent about family ties. However, there seems very little evidence to say that is actually the case.

Therefore, it would seem that nepotism is far older than capitalism.

Secondly, generally speaking, the children of wealthy parents tend to be highly qualified individuals in their own right. Though admittedly they went to the best schools because their wealthy parents paid for their pricey education, it does not change the fact that they have often gone to the best schools. Furthermore, due to the pressure that is often placed on them to be excellent in whatever they do, they often excel in their own right.

This, too, is much older than capitalism.

Thirdly, what do Benazir Bhutto, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Corazon Aquino, Indira Gandhi, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Park Geun-hye have in common?

I have heard many people point to these female Asian leaders to express their disappointment with the American people's inability/unwillingness to (yet) elect a woman to the White House. However, those people are only telling a half-truth. What they don't tend to mention is that people from India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Korea appear to be more willing to elect women because people in those societies tend to value family affiliations more.

Whether we like to admit it or not, women's advancement (at least in politics) often seems to begin at the altar.

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Fourth, nepotism is not unique to humans.

So, due to the historical precedence that nepotism has over capitalism, and that it is not unique to humans, it would appear that capitalism does not breed nepotism. However, considering that the rich tend to marry only among themselves, it would seem that at the very least, capitalism does enforce nepotism and vice versa. After all, one of the main reasons why people continue to work to earn more money than they need for themselves is to ensure that they can provide a more comfortable life for their children.

Is there a cure for nepotism? Well, I am not entirely sure if nepotism is actually a disease that requires a cure. More than anything else, it seems like it is an ingrained part of our more inner-psyche that cannot be easily extricated by mere legislation. Perhaps if all humans evolved to treat the rule of law as sacrosanct, we may see changing attitudes toward nepotism (and perhaps even toward the notion of family itself). Until, then, however, whether the prevailing economic system is based on laissez-faire capitalism, crony capitalism, corporatism, welfarism, socialism, communism, or whatever other -ism there is, it seems that we will not be ridding ourselves of nepotism any time soon.

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1 comment:

  1. The clear problem in this case was that though the airline is a publicly traded company, the family continues to treat it as their own personal property.

    I might suggest the regulation of the industry - in which a few are given virtual monopoly control in exchange for insubstantial "benefits" to the public - is at the root of the problem.

    The elite in Korea, this woman as a good example, are empowered by government fiat.