Cronyism to the Left, Cronyism to the Right

In recent years, individuals from across the political spectrum have condemned cronyism. Former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, once remarked that she felt sad “for the American people, who have had their lives affected by the culture of cronyism and corruption that exists in Washington.” Current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, similarly denounced cronyism: “Big-government economics breeds crony capitalism. It’s corrupt, anything but neutral, and a barrier to broad participation in prosperity.”

Despite the widespread denunciation of cronyism, it continues to proliferate. Why? If both leftists and conservatives decry cronyism, why does the practice remain so prevalent? The fact is, while nearly everyone is opposed to cronyism in theory, nearly everyone supports it in practice. They attack the cronyism of others, but defend their own cronyism.

Cronyism is the exchange of political favors for political support. Both the favors and the support can take many different forms.

Political favors can take the form of protectionist trade policies, subsidies, entitlements, earmarks, or other special legislation. Political support can take the form of campaign donations, votes, endorsements, and other activities designed to help a candidate’s election.

A close examination will reveal that both leftists and conservatives use cronyism when it fits their purposes, and each denounces cronyism when it is practiced by their political opponents. In other words, neither group sees anything wrong with dispensing political favors to its own supporters. But each group proclaims corruption and cronyism when the other side grants political favors to its supporters.

At the same time, voters demand a continuation of cronyist policies and programs, ranging from Social Security to food stamps, from student loans to mortgages. Virtually every political issue is a debate over whose cronies will benefit and whose will pay the bill.

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