Is it the size of the fees that's the problem? If the fees were lower, would it be worth paying them to keep the tent up? I can't quite tell if you're criticizing the actual institution or just the cost.
As far as the hereditary privilege goes, it does have the advantage of being a simple way to decide a leader. I don't think it would be an improvement if we were to have to vote on the new Doshu and have campaigning and whatnot. I can imagine a lot of competition and division.
As you have pointed out before, Aikikai membership is really a voluntary thing at this point. Why don't we turn it around and ask why people are paying the "big fees" now, even though they don't receive much in the way of direct tangible benefits? Is it just blind loyalty, or do you think those people believe that they are supporting something worthwhile?
Finally, where do you think all of that money is going? I always assumed it mostly went toward running things (i.e. keeping the tent up), but I've never really asked anyone about it. Do you have any insights?
On another note, in case you haven't noticed, hereditary privilege never "went out". It just changed its name to "capitalism". The rich still stay rich and the poor still clean the stables.
The fees are like anything else, they're worth it if people are willing to pay them. In the past they have been, but that was primarily based upon personal connection to Hombu, or the connection of one's teacher to Hombu. As we get to a point three, four, or five generations away, we get to a point where very few people have any personal connection to Hombu, even at 2nd or 3rd hand. In that case I think that people will naturally start to drop away from the organization - and I think that we're reaching that point now, in our generation. Why do people pay? I don't know - I did, but I still have second thoughts about it, and I know that I'm not the only one.
That may not be much of a problem for the people who leave the group, but it's a potential death knell for an organization.
Contrary to what some people may think, I'm basically in favor of the Aikikai as an umbrella organization - but I think that the basis for that organization has to change, or it won't survive into the future. Even now, the Aikikai has very little relevance to most Aikido practitioners, whose primary contact is through mail order promotion certificates.
Most large professional groups have some kind of selection process for the leadership - that doesn't mean that there are no politics, of course, but there are plenty of politics now, anyway (that doesn't necessarily mean an elected Doshu - the Emperor still remains in Japan, although Japan is now a democracy). Of course, history has shown the great advantage of the democratic process.
It doesn't have to be a democratic organization, of course. Toyota is not a democratic organization (in the sense that we're talking about, yes, I know that it's a publicly traded company), but people purchase Toyotas because they like the product, or they don't, but that tends to provide an impetus for Toyota to provide a valuable product.
On the whole, though, I think that democratically run organizations generally provide more incentives for their members to remain members.
Between Monarchy and Capitalism - I think that most of the world has shown that they choose Capitalism, for all of its warts.
Will the Aikikai change? Probably not, but I think that we'll see a gradual increase in independent organizations.