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"Crony" redirects here. For the fictional character, see Crony (Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide character).

Cronyism is partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to public office without regard for their qualifications. In political terms, the word "cronyism" is almost always used derogatorily. The word "crony" first appeared in 18th century London and is believed to be derived from the Greek word χρόνιος (chronios), meaning long-term.

Governments are particularly susceptible to accusations of cronyism as they spend public money. Many democratic governments are encouraged to have transparency in their accounting and contracting processes. However, there is often no clear line to denote when an appointment constitutes "cronyism." It is not at all unusual for a person of substantial political experience to surround himself with highly qualified individuals and to develop friendships, leading to the appointment of the friends to office or the obtaining of contracts. In fact, the counsel of such friends often constitutes the reason why the officeholder was successful in obtaining the position.

[edit] Cases of cronyism

George Washington was criticized for appointing Alexander Hamilton as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury after Hamilton had served as Washington's aide during the American Revolutionary War. Nonetheless, the contributions Hamilton made to stabilizing the currency and securing outside capital for the fledgling democracy are well known. Referring to Hamilton's appointment as cronyism seems particularly disputable in retrospect, although it is only after looking at his accomplishments that this determination can be made.

Cronyism can exist anywhere, in both free and not-so-free states. In general, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes are more vulnerable to acts of cronyism simply because the officeholders do not have to face the wrath of an electorate.

Examples of cronyism can be found in a number of current and former communist states. The cultural revolution in China was initially popular due to the perception that Mao Zedong was ridding the state of a number of officials who had obtained their positions by dint of friendship with communist authorities. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has gone after a number of former communist officials who held office through their connections to party officials.[1]

Independent of the world of politics, the business and labor community have also seen charges of cronyism. President Theodore Roosevelt led an attack on the cronyism against the oil, steel, banking and other businesses that had conspired to set prices by maintaining virtual monopolies through cronyism. Through interlocking directorates it was not uncommon to see various corporate boards share members among each other.

Appointing cronies to positions can also be used to advance the agenda of the person making the appointment. And it can also spectacularly fail to do so. In medieval England, King Henry II arranged the appointment of his good friend Thomas Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry believed that Becket would promote the king's agenda but was dismayed to see Becket adhere to his own conscience. Becket eventually excommunicated the king and the king was excoriated after three of his knights struck Becket down on the altar of the cathedral.

Nearly all officials with the power to appoint or award contracts have been accused of cronyism by critics at some stage during their terms. Some instances of cronyism are readily transparent. As to others, it is only in hindsight that the qualifications of the alleged "crony" must be evaluated.

Most recently, President George W. Bush was accused of cronyism after the nomination of Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court. Miers had no previous judicial experience and demonstrated little knowledge of constitutional law, and her selection was rejected by many conservatives and liberals. The appointment of Michael D. Brown to the head of FEMA could also be considered a case of cronyism as Brown had no experience pertaining to his job.

One of the most severe cases of cronyism occurred during the Kennedy administration. Robert S. McNamara was appointed by President John F. Kennedy without any experience, a point which McNamara made clear in the 2003 documentary The Fog of War. McNamara's role in the disastrous Vietnam War was crucial and he is often considered "the architect of the Vietnam War". Kennedy originally offered him a job as Secretary of Treasury and when McNamara admitted to having no experience he gave him Secretary of Defense. Even though McNamara confessed no experience in defense, Kennedy insisted he accept the position. In early November 1967, McNamara's recommendation to freeze troop levels, stop bombing North Vietnam and for the US to hand over ground fighting to South Vietnam was rejected outright by President Lyndon B. Johnson. McNamara's recommendations amounted to him saying that all the policies he had been promoting for years were wrong and that his strategy for winning the war was a failure. Total US withdrawal from Vietnam happened in 1975.

[edit] See also


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