Jeremy Schulz: Knitting the (wealthy) Family Together
Knitting the Family Together: Intergenerational Binding and Wealth in Elite Multigenerational Business-Owning Families
Dr. Jeremy Schulz, ISSI UC Berkeley
This presentation sketches an account of wealth-holding and intergenerational solidarities in elite multigenerational business-owning families or what I call EMEFs. Such families – which I define as business-owning families which control a company with at least 1,000 employees or at least $100 million in real or financial assets - play an outsize role in contemporary capitalist societies across the world. As I show in the presentation these families, in addition to their empirical importance exhibit a number of theoretically intriguing aspects: they are hybrid entities with features of kinship units and bureaucratic structures at the same time. I theorize these extended multibranch families in terms of family projects, multigenerational projects which are simultaneously economic and social. I pay special attention to two topics in the presentation: 1) the diverse ways in which different kinds of EMEFs bind the younger family members to the family project and 2) the ambivalence which these families display towards the wealth which their business activities generate in the hands of individual family members, particularly younger family members in the midst of launching their professional lives and careers. With regard to the first topic I use several case studies to illustrate how three complementary binding strategies work in practice: the strategy based on formal employment, the strategy based on asset gifting, and the strategy based on family social activities. I show how different types of EMEFs use these three strategies in cases where members of the younger generation want to carve out their own occupational paths and build their own careers. With respect to the second theme I discuss the two contrasting ways in which wealth functions for the younger members of the family, in their own eyes and in the eyes of family leadership. On the one hand unspendable wealth, gifts of stock in the family company for example, or future trust allocations, is considered a crucial glue for binding the family together and ensuring the economic futures of the younger generation. On the other hand, too much spendable wealth in the hands of the younger generation can, in the eyes of both family leadership and the younger generation, erode the motivation to pursue moneymaking careers, which have tremendous value to both generations as signals of moral worthiness and productivity.