Sententiae viri ex temporibus duobus

Thinking About Families…

So with my father’s visit now come and gone I’ve been thinking about families and their fates. Why do some families rise and some others decay? How can someone fight against the chance that their progeny will squander that for which the ambitious have sacrificed and suffered? Can you mandate responsibility from beyond the grave?

It is clear that this question has been with man since the very earliest times. We shall recall in Plato’s Meno that Meno and Socrates have an extensive dialog concerning whether or not virtue (arete) could be taught. Ultimately, it became apparent that virtue could not be taught, for from the most virtuous houses of Athens, wicked scions were quickened.

Similarly, houses of wealth find themselves decaying for what the sons and daughters fail to learn. Mann’s Buddenbrooks makes this point through its ponderous length. I can’t remember which son it was, but I recall him living disowned by his father as some sort of shabby artist while his mother would sell the family silver to give him money for license, alcohol, and illness. Mann seems to think that structure cannot provide us a method for imbuing virtue, and non-intervention seems equally likely to produce failures.

While on the Teutonic bit, I’m inclined to remember Lou Reed’s “Men of Good Fortune” (off of the perfectly sublime in its hopelessness, Berlin LP) that reminds us that “Men of good fortune, often cause empires to fall” (Who’s in the White House these days?).

A family clearly has a goal. First, in a biological sense: To preserve the genetics of the current generation into the subsequent generation. To this end we amass resources (money), we educate, we love, in the hopes of molding individuals that will be able to survive, and in their turn re-propagate. Thus social skills, education, social normalization, all represent means by which to accomplish this goal.

Thus, the preservation of resources for future use by genetic carriers is the responsibility of the parent that is coeval with the propagation act. Clearly, survival increases as access to resources (and what resources can buy) increases.

Yet when a family has cold hard lucre, it is all too easily squandered. When many children are born, divisivness and can set in? The question is how to preserve wealth, amity, love, as well as distribute resources so as to provide the genetic carriers an edge?

I have a few ideas (I rather sexistly use father/son as I am thinking of my father and myself, with me as him and my son):

  • Establish a familial ‘kernel’ of capital.

  • A son must be ‘given’ access to a limited amount of the capital early especially when his salary is on the smallish side so that his earnings are best put to use. Typically this should be used to help him secure a property for abode.

  • A son must ‘earn’ the right to a full custodianship. Full access to this is contingent on his successful addition of a certain percentage of capital to the kernel.

  • Access to the kernel must be shut down on a weaning basis such that the parent generation, as its earnings / investment return capability waxes, their reliance upon the kernel decreases (and grows available to the child generation)

Man, there are so many loopholes and what ifs at this point, it’s a real mess. I suppose that’s why so many tycoons' foundations gave their children a one-time payout of a lot of money and then declared hands off. It grows exponentially more difficult with more children.

Definitely something to consider further….