This is a follow-up to a dialogue between Janne and me on this post. I thought it merited a posting on its own because it puts forth an idea about the reasons for the heirloom politicians and their relative prevalence that I think makes sense. Such thoughts are always followed in my case by an uh-oh, did I just reinvent the wheel again moment. Let me know if you know any work along my line of reasoning.In democracies, where the power of the political parties over the electoral process (choice of candidates, campaign funding, etc.) is strong, politicians will be chosen on the basis of merit rather than heritage. Where the political parties are weak and individual start-up politicians are expected to act as political venture business, that is, do his own financing, marketing, sales, after-service, etc., then this places newly-minted challengers at a substantial disadvantage against established incumbents. That is not all. Many of the assets that a lifelong politician has amassed over the years such as contacts and fundraising networks and even a measure of personal loyalty (if the successor has worked closely with the incumbent over the years) can be passed on in the form of political goodwill to an anointed successor. This is particularly effective in the case of a close relative who shares the surname, since that individual can inherit the family brand intact as an heirloom candidate. (I prefer the word heirloom over alternatives such as heritage because it conjures the image of heirloom turkeys, providing me with a most pleasurable sensation when I think of politics.)
This could explain the difference between, say the U.K. and Germany on the one hand and the United States on the other, The much greater prevalence of heirloom politicians in Japan is likely to be attributable to reinforcement by the much stronger social pressure to keep up the family “business” in contrast to the American, sell-out-and-move-to-the-Keys mentality.
To be sure, you must do a far more comprehensive, country-by-country study. But I do think it’s a potentially powerful hypothesis. I’m sure, in fact, that scholars must have done this kind of comparative study already.