Python Parents
April 13, 2012, 02:54 PM
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From the NYT:

Across India, Nepotism as a Way of Life

By MANU JOSEPH

NEW DELHI — The Indian upper class, like royalty, is sexually transmitted. Politics, business, mainstream cinema and other occupations where talent is subordinate to lineage are dominated by family cartels, who plant their own over the rest. The Indian elite is a system where there is a 100 percent reservation for its own genetic material. And the most underrated joke in the country is when this class joins the middle class in lamenting reservations for the poorest Indians from the “backward” castes in colleges and jobs. 

The urban middle class, too, is a beneficiary of the generous and tenacious Indian family, which subsidizes its children far longer and deeper than is generally accepted. Only a young Indian who is not supported by a family purse will appreciate the simple fact that he or she does not compete with other young people for a shot at a decent life but with whole families. The Indian is less an individual and more the mascot of his family background — much the way Rahul Gandhi is the mascot of the Gandhi dynasty. ... 

Bilawal Zardari, 23, is chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Rahul Gandhi, 41, is a general secretary of the Congress party. Bilawal Zardari’s prime qualification for the position he holds is that he is the son of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and grandson of the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Mr. Gandhi’s is that he is the son of the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and grandson of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi. [And great-grandson of India's first prime minister, Nehru.]... 

In mainstream Hindi cinema, all the top actors cast in lead roles, barring one, are sons of former film stars, directors or writers. ... It is unusual for Indian businessmen to donate to charity because such generosity is at the expense of their primary function — to materially enrich the lives of their children. ... 

The parents stand by their children for a long time, buying them apartments and cars, and putting those with no family support at considerable disadvantage. In return, the useful parents exert considerable power over their children long after they cease to be children. 

The Indian cricket star Yuvraj Singh is more often photographed with his mother than with pretty girls. In any other country it would be unusual to see a young sports star photographed so often with his mama. Rahul Dravid, one of the most revered cricketers, once dated a top actress, but he married the girl his mother picked. 

Tiger Mothers, Eagle Fathers, Dalmatian Dads, and now, for the sake of alliteration, Python Parents. (Or maybe Boa Constrictor Parents?)

There are two theoretically distinct elements here: parental investment and nepotism. 

You can have societies that are low in parental investment and high in nepotism, but you wouldn't want to live in one. The most trouble-free societies are high in paternal investment and low in nepotism, but, it's not easy to stay that way. It's rather unnatural. As Ibn Khaldun pointed out 700 years ago, when the all-for-one-and-one-for-all tribes come screaming out of the desert and conquer a lush city, within a few generations of prosperity, they are all stabbing each other in the back in family quarrels.

One problem with high paternal investment, apart from nepotism, is that it funds a lot of diminishing marginal return competition for positional goods. In 21st Century America, the Ivy League to Wall Street career path is so lucrative that it generates a huge amount of competition without obvious societal benefit. In contrast, in Heinlein's America, which was fairly low nepotism (especially from December 8, 1941 onward) and fairly high (but not extravagant) paternal investment, in contrast, it seemed sensible just to send your kid to State U.

I don't know anything about the lower 80% or so of the Indian population, but the upper reaches seem to be a high paternal investment culture. 

This high level of nepotism makes India a more screwed-up nation than it has to be. What's interesting, however, is that high nepotism culture that helps make India a mess simultaneously makes Indians well situated to compete in globalized America.