Nepotism vs Meritocracy: Which would you prefer?

If you ask anyone who works at any company, which would they prefer, they would most likely say meritocracy.  Meritocracy is the form of corporate governance that bases rewards and prestige on how much one contributes to the company and the value of those contributions, as opposed to nepotism, which rewards people for who they know, or if they have a personal connection with those in power at the company.

 

I was thinking a lot recently about nepotism and trying to challenge my own preconceptions of the practice and whether or not it is a good practice in the perspective of the corporation as a whole.  I find that when you really sit down and challenge the preconceptions of some of the things around us which we accept without question, we often find that the answers are illuminating and not at all what you would imagine at first glance.

 

Nepotism:  “the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.”

 

So what is the problem with this behaviour? Especially as China seems to make nepotism a common practice among those in the corporate world so much so that they have a special word for this — “guanxi”.  Most westerners would grimace at the thought that a company would reward some coveted positions in the company only to those who have personal relationships with those in power.  But this practice is widely seen in countries like Japan and Korea as well.  It is very common to see the daughter of a famous politician working at top tier western investment firms, or sons of wealthy businessmen finding their way into positions of power at legal firms.  But is this so bad?

 

 

After all, what is so bad about giving jobs to relatives of those who stand to potentially give your company favorable treatment in the future?  How much different is this from sales and client relationship management?  The line is definitely grey.  Who is to say that the potential business and profits that this practice may bring in isn’t more than the investing the money and effort into developing better talent for actual skilled workers?

 

If you think a bit on this and you ignore all the personal reasons or the negative secondary effects that this practice may breed (a negative impact on moral of the other employees for instance) then really the only problem with using nepotism as an effective way of increasing profits is that it shifts the company focus from the importance of internal capability and talent to that of a dependence on external parties.  Instead of building up your own capability to create value, you defer this to an IOU that you hope an external party will one day reciprocate.  Most of the time, this may pay off if the external party is influential enough to make a significant difference to your bottom line, otherwise employing nepotism won’t be worth the risk of the negative stigma that it would entail.  That is why it is rampant everywhere in corporate life around the globe. Because it works, in the short term at least. (But isn’t this true of most forms of corruption?)

 

But if it is a viable way to curry favour and increase the bottom line of your company, then why is nepotism seen as being an “unfair” practice?  After all, if you don’t like the fact that the son of the golfing buddy of the CEO just took your senior management position in your firm, why don’t you stop whining, and start practicing golf yourself instead?  Why do people complain that it isn’t ‘fair’?  Most likely because the fact of the matter is that nepotism tends to favour people within the same social circles.  And it is much harder for people of lower class statuses to mingle or even get to know people of the upper classes.  So it’s not so much the skill of your golf game that matters, it’s the fact that you would never have a chance to play golf with the CEO at all, because you are not of sufficient social wealth and influence to even interact within those circles.

 

Said tersely, nepotism favours those who have ‘earned’ their right to their position OUTSIDE of the confines of the system, while others in the company must earn their right to their station while operating WITHIN the system of evaluation of the companies’s KPI.  The tension is between those who work hard at the company and do their job well to earn the company profit, and who earn their way up the corporate ladder through merit, vs those who are rich and influential (or their progeny) who earned their wealth doing something outside of the company’s purview.  Those who earned their station via hard work, naturally feel it unfair that those who got a free ride into their position, by way of ‘cheating’.  In fact the game analogy fits very succinctly here.  Those who get their job via nepotism can be seen the same way as a team that wins a football match via paying off the referees.  Namely, they exploited an advantage that is external to the rules of the game, in order to beat their opponents at it.  Nepotism is bribing a judge at the Olympic figure skating championship; it is greasing the ball in the pitchers mitt; it is using steroids before the 100m sprint.  You are winning because you exploited an advantage that was outside of the rule confines of the game.

 

The notion of a ‘fair game’ is one which treats all the players equally and fairly.  Such that the winner wins based solely on their merits of performance within the rules of the game as agreed upon by all the participants.  This is a game which everyone can play, without fear that they would be taken advantage of, and this is the only type of game in which the losers can accept their defeat gracefully, without complaint, commotion, or resentment.

 

If we can all generally agree that nepotism, while potentially beneficial to the corporate body as a whole, in the long term breeds ill will among its honest employees, and also sacrifices internal talent and competence for dependence on the favours of external parties, then why pre-tell, are we in the crypto industry so hell bent on creating Proof of Stake systems? (as in Ethereum)

 

After all Proof of Stake systems, in which your influence in the blockchain system is proportional to the amount of native tokens that you have locked up or ‘staked’ and put at risk to ensure you perform your validation duties faithfully, are just the same thing as nepotism.  It uses the same model which rewards those who earned value external to the system, and bestows advantages to them by giving them influence in the system.  The similarities are plain to see if you just take time to look.  In a Proof of Stake system, you lock up some value in the native token (this is the opportunity cost that you pay to buy your influence).  This amount is static and you don’t need to pay any continual costs while you enjoy this position of influence.  Isn’t this very much like the daughter of the US Senator who got a sales manager job at Goldman Sachs? Her family earned a lot of money outside the system (the company) and they then pay some opportunity cost to get an influential job within the system (commits to spending their time at the company as opposed to working elsewhere), and then while employed, she doesn’t really need to do any real work, because she got the job due to her connections, and the company hired her only to curry favour with the father who is an influential politician.

 

Sounds a lot like a PoS validator!  (Sorry Ethereum, EOS, Tezos, and all the other Proof of Stake blockchains).

 

Compare and contrast, if you will, the lowly programmer, who works their butt off to develop great software products for the company.  Their position in the company is based entirely on their performance and value that they have created by way of real work delivered as software products.  Their commitment to the company is constant, as they constantly have to perform and ‘give time and effort’ to the company in order to maintain their status.  They cannot rest on their laurels.  They not only give up opportunity cost by choosing to work at this company and not another, but they also have to pay the daily cost of their labor to the company, and if they ever ceased to perform or ‘pay’ this maintenance cost or labor effort, then they would be fired.  Doesn’t this remind you of something?  Yes, Proof of Work miners!

 

Proof of Work is the only system that ensures that the game is fair, and that all participants are treated equitably and are equally incentivized to keep on paying the constant maintenance costs to earn wages in the company.  And very much like the system of corporations and capitalism, Proof of Work mining is the only blockchain verification system that has positive externalities.  Just like how employees of a company all pursuing their own advancement has the net positive externality of the company earning profit, PoW mining may soon incentivize research and development in efficient power generation and transmission, developing unused power sources, and even space exploration.

Who says Proof of Work mining is a waste of energy?

 

This is why Bitcoin Cash and only Bitcoin Cash makes sense as a global blockchain.  Because it is the only one that has both the history, and the focus on PoW miners being the most important part of the growing ecosystem.

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