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Nepotism: Promoting family members just as much as family values!

Nepotism is the hiring or promoting of one's relatives with little or no regard for qualifications.[1]

Nepotism is a time-honored way for politicians to leverage their position in office by creating or providing jobs for their immediate family. It is also generally considered corrupt,[2] and contrary to the concept of rule of law and meritocracy.[3]

House of Lords[edit]

Traditionally, a member of the UK's House of Lords passed his parliamentary seat down to a hereditary peer. In 1999, the House of Lords Act severely curtailed this practice, and only a total of ninety Britons at a time can be members of the upper chamber by "virtue of a hereditary peerage".[4]

Spoils system[edit]

To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.
Senator William Marcy of New York, 1832[5]

A related practice is the spoils system (also known as the patronage system), in which politicians reward their supporters (as opposed to just family) with positions in the government after they win an election. The origin of the spoils system in the United States is commonly attributed to Andrew Jackson's administration in the 1830s, but was seen earlier in the Democratic-Republican vs. Federalist rivalry of Thomas Jefferson's day.

While now recognized as inherently corrupt, there were a number of people who believed that the spoils system was a good thing for democracy compared to a merit-based system. Many supporters believed that the spoils system was a way to allow the nouveau riche "little man" to cut his way through the entrenched elites, bureaucracy, and special interests and make his voice heard, encouraging greater participation in politics by the common people and making politicians accountable to their supporters. Cycling out political appointees whose jobs had been earned through patronage with the new boss' lackeys was likewise seen as a way to prevent the bureaucracy from growing ossified and prevent the emergence of career politicians; similar claims are made today by those who support term limits for Congressmen and Senators.

Support for a merit-based system grew in the mid-late 1800s as a growing federal government required better-qualified people to run it. Growing problems with corruption were being recognized, as appointees were being caught embezzling money and making all manner of embarrassing mistakes on the job. The final straw for many supporters of reform came with the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 by Charles J. Guiteau, a disgruntled (and crazy) supporter and office seeker who felt he was owed a cushy government job under Garfield. The Civil Service Act of 1883 subsequently made using the spoils system to fill certain government positions illegal.[6] This has not stopped certain individuals from getting high government positions according to what certainly seems like it.

Although the term is of American origin, the system is used in many other countries.

See also[edit]


  1. Says my brother, whom I appointed chief definer of words.
  2. Not according to my nephew, whom I appointed head of the ethics committee.
  3. Not according to my sister's boyfriend's cousin's roommate in summer camp in the year before high school, whom I appointed head of the meritocracy committee.
  4. House of Lords Act 1999
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica: spoils system
  6. United States History: The Spoils System versus the Merit System