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Cronyism: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the concept of cronyism. A major issue in U.S. governments of the past and governments throughout the world today, cronyism can greatly undermine a government's effectiveness.

Playground Privileges

On the playground, all children give their friends special privileges, be it the first pick of teams, preferential treatment in a game of tag, or even a piece of their favorite candy bar. Treating your friends better than others who are not your friends like this is expected of children.

Unfortunately, some adults do not grow out of this habit and, if they become politicians, this can become a major issue. This, in the adult, political world, is known as cronyism.

Definition

Cronyism is giving preference to your friends, relatives, or other acquaintances in political and business appointments regardless of their level of qualification. When accusations of cronyism are correctly made in the political arena, the recipient of the position is generally very unqualified for the post they are occupying.

Forms & Characteristics

Cronyism, as the definition suggests, is largely an issue in the political sphere, especially in federal and local government. The nature of the U.S. political appointment structure, however, often makes it hard to determine what is cronyism and what is simply an acceptable, yet patronage-based, appointment. Many politicians, once elected, use their political appointments to reward those who helped them get elected. This is standard practice in U.S. politics. However, it becomes cronyism when the appointed official's credentials and abilities are not sufficient to fulfill the position's requirements.

Cronyism is still often hard to detect even when an official fails at their post. It's not always readily apparent if the person lacked the qualification and preparation for the position or if they simply failed. Whether or not the official's appointment exhibited cronyism often depends on point of view. For example, the political opponents of the politician who made the appointment will likely consider it cronyism (or at least claim it in the press).

Cronyism is still apparent today and exists in governments throughout the world, and most government watchdogs view instances of cronyism within a government as a marker of the government's level of corruption. Transparency International has measured the level of corruption within governments since 1995. In their most recent poll, Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand received the highest grades (i.e., lowest levels of corruption and cronyism) while Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan all received the lowest grades.

Examples

There have been several cases of clear cronyism in the history of U.S. politics. The following examples of these extremes will better illustrate cronyism.

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