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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

America is not a meritocracy. Wealth and power are both largely inherited traits, to the point at which there's a name for the seeming inability of the children of the rich to fail: the glass floor.

Yes, but: While inheriting wealth is relatively uncontroversial, inheriting power can be problematic.

Driving the news: Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, has received much good fortune over the course of his life, first as the son of a Delaware senator and then as the son of the vice president of the United States.

"My dad was vice president of the United States. There's literally nothing, as a young man or as a full grown adult, that my father in some way hasn't had influence over."
— Hunter Biden, in an interview with ABC News
  • Hunter was accepted to Yale Law School, became his father's deputy campaign manager, was offered a plum job with a bank holding company that was one of his father's largest campaign contributors, founded a lobbying company, was appointed by President George W. Bush to the board of Amtrak, and founded an investment firm with another political scion, John Kerry's stepson Christopher Heinz.
  • He joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas producer, in 2014. According to the New York Times, his board seat "allowed Burisma to create the perception that it was backed by powerful Americans at a time when Ukraine was especially dependent on aid and strategic backing from the United States."

None of this is criminal, although when U.S. companies hire Chinese princelings, that can violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2016, for instance, JPMorgan paid a fine of $264 million for giving investment-banking jobs to the children of high-ranking Chinese officials. (Deutsche Bank seems to have done something very similar.)

Politicians' children have a tendency to receive amazing jobs — up to and including senior White House positions, in the case of Ivanka Trump and her husband.

  • John McCain's daughter Meghan c0-hosts "The View" on ABC and she also appears on ABC News. Her co-host Abby Huntsman, the daughter of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, previously worked for NBC News; both of them have also worked for Fox. Bill and Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, also worked for NBC News.

The bottom line: If you're the child of a prominent politician, your connections are going to be valuable in many different industries. That's going to help your career whether you like it or not. It's also going to leave you open to accusations of nepotism and free-riding.

  • When should scions say no to lucrative opportunities? The emerging consensus seems to be that work for domestic companies is generally accepted, while work for foreign companies is more problematic. But these norms are constantly evolving.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
9 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.