Newspaper article International New York Times

Inheriting the Keys to Wealth

Newspaper article International New York Times

Inheriting the Keys to Wealth

Article excerpt

For all India's modernity and rising economic growth, the influence of inheritance, even if only in basic schooling and nourishment, still plagues the country.

Some nights in India's posh pubs, a live band plays Frank Sinatra's "My Way," and the beautiful people on the floor make gestures of poignant glory, as though they were standing on the summits of self-made success after facing great odds and the song were a tribute to their own lives. It is reasonable to imagine the bartenders suppressing a fit of laughter.

The most discussed book of the season grants them the moral right to go all out and laugh at the type of Indians who misinterpret luck as achievement. "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," by Thomas Piketty, keeps India on the margins, but one of the book's important arguments illuminates modern Indian society -- that the influence of inheritance, which undermines true merit, has not diminished with economic growth. Instead, it has risen.

Mr. Piketty deals with inheritance chiefly as a material gift, mentioning only in passing the other abstract forms it can assume. Yet, these are the crucial underpinnings of the Indian elite, including the top segment of the new salaried class, who are beneficiaries not merely of ancestral assets, but of caste, skin color, their parents' educational backgrounds, the contacts they made because of their social status and even the nourishment they received as children.

Because the pool of Indians who have been so favored is very small in relation to the size of the nation, these beneficiaries are poised to garner most of the opportunities and grow much faster than the rest of the nation. They already have. Families matter to children all over the world, of course, but in India their role is fundamental and lasting, because in an impoverished country where the government is inept, much depends on the family. And a successful family is one that recognizes that it has the means to triumph over the average national fate.

Just being recipients of a healthy diet and good schooling has ensured that hundreds of thousands of Indians have had an unbridgeable head start over hundreds of millions. …

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