In Canada and the U.S. we have something called inheritance taxes, which can run as high as 50 per cent of the value of an estate. While this tax is a frequent target of politicians (who usually claim to be acting on behalf of farming families that want to hand properties down while actually representing the interests of wealthy donors), it's also the most democratic tax we have. If the underlying promise of democracy and capitalism is that anybody can became rich, famous and powerful with enough hard work then it makes no sense to allow money, fame and power to concentrate in a handful of hands in perpetuity. What would be the point of doing anything if you knew the whole system was rigged against you from birth?
And yet, despite our best intentions, it remains rigged.
There are ways that wealthy families get around inheritance taxes, like setting up trust funds or endowing charities or foundations that their children and children's children will draw huge salaries from until the money at last runs out. Putting assets in a spouse's or child's name at the time of purchase is another way to keep it in the family, or various long-term investments that pay taxable dividends but don't get taxed themselves until you cash out.
But these days the most common method of passing down wealth is to bring your children into the family business. You're not expressly giving your children anything this way, or so the logic goes, you're merely paying them a simple, albeit massive, salary for services rendered.
It's still greasy. Ivanka Trump is no idiot, but it's safe to say that being The Donald's daughter helped her get a job managing the Trump real estate empire. The Donald himself got a leg up from his father, Fred Trump, who made millions buying up apartment blocks in New York.
Corporate nepotism is not usually tolerated by shareholders or boards of directors, but it's out there at Bechtel, Hearst Corp., Motorola, Comcast, Schwab, etc. Sometimes it's worked for the benefit of the company and sometimes not, but it has always seemed deeply wrong to me - or are we to believe that business acumen is a genetic trait passed down like height and male pattern baldness?
Political nepotism is a little rarer, but it exists. In the U.S. we saw the son of the 41 st president become the 43 rd president a little over eight years ago, and I think most people would agree it was a disaster. We also had the wife of the 42 nd president try to land the top job, and while I do believe that Hillary Clinton was qualified it still seemed a little wrong after the father-son presidencies. Are we expected to believe that political leadership is genetic AND possibly sexually transmitted?
In Canada, Justin Trudeau is doing a good job following in his father's footsteps, but I don't have a problem with this yet. That's probably because Pierre died too young to hand any kind of torch down to his son other than his famous last name, and because Justin became an MP the hard way by taking on an incumbent Bloc Quebecois candidate. If he runs for the party leadership any time soon I may change my mind. Politics were never meant to be a family business.
I don't mind sports nepotism all that much because genetics do play a part in athletics. Besides, no sane person could say Brett Hull got his job because he was Bobby Hull's son, he had to work as hard as anyone to make his way from the minors to the NHL.
Musical nepotism was probably okay once upon a time because you actually had to have some talent to sell records. But these days, when pretty young pop stars sing lyrics written by someone else into vocal filters that can make anyone sound like a superstar, family connections can mean everything.
Which brings me to Hollywood nepotism, and the growing number of second-generation stars out there. I don't mind when the grown children of actors go out for roles - and you could argue that beauty is even more genetic than athleticism, and plays a huge part in casting - but when Will Smith casts his son for a Karate Kid remake (they're calling it The Kung Fu Kid ), and Jada Pinkett Smith gets their daughter a voice role alongside her in Madagascar 2 , there's plainly something vain and nepotistic involved.
There are either two explanations for the rise of Hollywood nepotism - A) that talent truly is hereditary and exhibits itself at an early age, or B) that acting really isn't that hard, in which case we should probably rethink handing out Academy Awards.
But if talent is hereditary, then how come so few authors pass down their talents? Or scientists? Why isn't Picasso Jr. selling cubist post-surrealist paintings at the local gallery?
There are no laws to prevent people from handing down their wealth and fame to the next generation, just the credulity of the audience. So far we don't seem to mind all the family relations, but I worry what that says about us. Have we accepted nepotism as a fact of life, or have we just given up and accepted our new roles in the Indian-style caste system that's being foisted on us?
Karate Kid remake. Pfft! Ralph Macchio's career must be rolling in its grave.