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A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride:

When I was preparing this newsletter, news broke that the U.S. government had spotted a Chinese surveillance balloon over Montana. (I wrote about the drumbeat of war with China last month). Is China spying on the ballistic missiles buried in the Great Plains?

A military power tends to treat provocations militarily. But the track record of Chinese espionage shows how much America’s economy interests the Chinese government. For instance, NPR’s best guess in 2021 was that the Chinese government’s Microsoft hack was helping it compile a huge database of American consumer behavior.

China has also been investing mightily in American land and companies. Viewed through an economic lens, what is there to see in Montana? Agriculture, for one thing; water, for another, mining, for another. Military interest is not the only possible explanation for the balloon. People who live on the East Coast have a blind spot for the resources of flyover country. That doesn’t mean the Chinese government does.

How to Rear a Generation of Nepo Babies

Nepo Babies.

What does it feel like to never have to worry about money? To know that no matter what, you can never really fail, because there’s a network of money and connections behind you?

I ask questions about wealth sometimes at the start of an interview with a wealthy do-gooder. It’s my way of throwing down the gauntlet. What are you doing with your privilege, because you have a lot of it, so it better be something pretty damn good. Of course, inherited money and status doesn’t guarantee happiness, but material needs are met. That’s more than many Americans experience.

Those are the questions at the heart of the Gen Z-generated conversation about nepo babies – the children of celebrities who become celebrities themselves. The phrase, which originated on social media, is becoming a flashpoint after a New York magazine cover used it.

I understand the anger over unfair advantages, which are proliferating in the U.S. as our class differences harden. Running out of money is not an existential fear in this country. You can die – lots of people die, lots of middle-class people die – because they lack the money to pay for good health care.

At the same time class is making more a material difference, wealth and celebrity are taking over the zeitgeist. Neither is an indication of values or ethics (work or otherwise). In America, wealth and celebrity are increasingly markers of luck and/or ruthlessness. The root of the word nepotism is the Italian “nepote”, or nephew. Popes used to appoint their nephews as cardinals. It’s easy for privileged people to don cloaks of goodness. That doesn’t make them good people, or worth listening to.

I understand the anger and sometimes feel it myself. But when it comes to discussions about merit, class and nepotism, you can easily get stuck in a dead-end of anger: How much is enough? Who deserves to be rewarded, and by how much? What should the tax rate be?

Safety nets versus competition; capitalism versus socialism.

I want to push through the anger, so I can get beyond it. Inequality of wealth and opportunity, and the anger over the inequality, are symptoms of the problem, but not the problem itself. One of the most important stats: Children from high-income (top 1%) families are 10 times more likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families.

The question for people of privilege is not whether they deserve their privilege, but what they are doing to create a world in which everyone is privileged to live without material fear. What art, what change, what business would you create if you didn’t live with that fear? For all of us, the important question is not who has how much wealth or opportunity – it’s how we rear children so that they’re all nepo babies.

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and