The end of corruption?

By Razib Khan | June 27, 2012 12:05 am

Steve Sailer has been on the cousin marriage “beat” for a while now, every since his 2003 piece on the practice in Iraq. Why is cousin marriage bad? Because large interrelated clans can create sets of societies within societies. Here’s a Bedouin proverb: “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers” Like polygyny hyper-endogamy as a normative practice is corrosive to the institutional and civic skeleton which a liberal democracies rest upon. Remember, these are societies where you don’t need to look outside the family for friends or marriage partners. The incentive for nepotism and corruption becomes very strong, and every extended family unit is operationally a “firm,” analogous to the mafia.

But there’s one issue about this narrative which has always made me hopeful: what happens to nepotism when you don’t have nephews? This is what I’m talking about:

As much of the world experiences demographic transition the “circle of cousins” begins to shrink. You can’t have extended families in great quantity when you don’t have many siblings. If Dunbar’s number is true then in societies which have experienced demographic transition you can’t just fill out your Facebook friends lists with your relatives. There aren’t enough of them to go around.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Culture

Comments (12)

  1. The antidote to cousin marriage is romantic marriage. Is true love the real basis of democracy?

  2. bob sykes

    For anyone interested, hbd* chick has numerous posts on this issue and has collected a very large amount of sociological and historical data:

  3. Chris Irwin Davis

    Perhaps the negative recessive genetic traits that are more likely to manifest from consanguineous marriage will tend towards those individuals being de-selected in societal evolution. Steven Pinker has some things to say about this in The Better Angels Of Our Nature. He argues for societies evolving towards fairness and expansion of inclusiveness.

  4. juan

    Are the higher rates in Western Europe vs Eastern Europe due to immigration from cousin-loving immigrants?

  5. April Brown

    Cousin marriage and romantic marriage aren’t the only options.

    In Western Uzbekistan, marriages are either arranged or, to a lesser degree these days, formed through random kidnappings. The arranged marriages among the Karakalpaks are absolutely forbidden to take place not only between cousins, but also between members of the same larger family clan. The ethnic Uzbeks prefer cousin marriages to keep money in the same family, and there’s an awful lot of snickering and bad jokes made at each ethnic groups’ expense.

  6. chris w

    Yeah, what’s with Russia and Ukraine being lighter than Germany? Seems off. #4 can’t be correct — Turks, Morrocans, Algerians and Pakistanis in western Europe don’t run the government.

  7. Kaviani

    A reduction in nepotism, maybe, but corruption is very adaptable to social circumstances. Just look at the lobbyist syndrome on Capitol Hill if you want evidence, or any number of megachurch scandals. Greed finds a way.

  8. simplicio

    S. Korea has an odd system where until recently it was illegal to marry someone from the same clan, which basically is equivalent to everyone with the same paternal lineage back to the 10th century. Some of the resulting clans are now large enough that under the old system Koreans would be barred from considering a sizable proportion of their countrymen as marriage partners. This is apparently breaking down now, but is still enough of a taboo that there’s a good amount of snickering when two people of the same clan date.

    It’d be interesting to study whether this system has had an effect on corruption in Korea.

  9. @April

    > Karakalpaks are absolutely forbidden to [marry] cousins [while] ethnic
    > Uzbeks prefer cousin marriages … there’s an awful lot of … bad jokes
    > made at each ethnic groups’ expense

    …positively no good ones?

  10. April Brown

    @ 9

    You know, some of them were probably funny, but I was such a hack at the local languages I missed out on most of the humor. People had to keep telling me when they were joking. So embarrassing…

  11. Justin Loe

    I have high confidence in America’s ability to maintain its current levels of corruption in no small part due to the ongoing contributions to the same by all elements of our political system, and despite our lack of cousin marriage. I sleep better at night secure in the knowledge that the US will continue to be exemplary in its levels of corruption because of the ongoing creativity of its citizens to find new and better ways to exceed the corrupt practices of the past.

  12. Stolen Dormouse

    Don’t knock cousin marriage–think Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgewood, who were part of two prominent families that intertangled in the 18th century, all the descendents and close relatives of Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood. (See the” Darwin-Wedgewood Family” article in Wikipedia,

    As the article states, “The family contained at least ten Fellows of the Royal Society and several artists and poets (including the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams).” My surprise was that the a Darwin married the brother of John Maynard Keynes, bringing this family into the mix. The Darwins and Huxleys came together in the 20th century when a great grandson of Charles Darwin married a great granddaughter of Thomas Huxley.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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