From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
|Part of a series on|
Crony capitalism is a term describing an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state interventionism. Crony capitalism is believed to arise when business cronyism and related self-serving behavior by businesses or businesspeople spills over into politics and government, or when self-serving friendships and family ties between businessmen and the government influence the economy and society to the extent that it corrupts public-serving economic and political ideals.
The term "crony capitalism" made a significant impact in the public arena as an explanation of the Asian financial crisis. It is also used to describe governmental decisions favoring "cronies" of governmental officials. In this context, the term is often used interchangeably with corporate welfare; to the extent that there is a difference, it may be the extent to which a government action can be said to benefit individuals rather than entire industries.
Crony capitalism exists along a continuum. In its lightest form, crony capitalism consists of collusion among market players which is officially tolerated or encouraged by the government. While perhaps lightly competing against each other, they will present a unified front (sometimes called a trade association or industry trade group) to the government in requesting subsidies or aid or regulation. Newcomers to a market may find it difficult to find loans, acquire shelf space, or receive official sanction. Some such systems are very formalized, such as sports leagues and the Medallion System of the Taxicabs of New York City, but often the process is more subtle, such as expanding training and certification exams to make it more expensive for new entrants to enter a market and thereby limit competition. In technological fields, there may evolve a system whereby new entrants may be accused of infringing on patents that the established competitors never assert against each other. Distribution networks will refuse to aid the entrant. In spite of this, some competitors will succeed when the legal barriers are light, especially where the old guard has become inefficient and is failing to meet the needs of the market. Of course, some of these upstarts may then join with the established networks to help deter any other new competitors. Examples of this have been argued to include the keiretsu of post-war Japan, the print media in India, the chaebol of South Korea, and the powerful families who control much of the investment in Latin America.
However, while these sorts of collusion are all examples of cronyism, the term crony capitalism is generally used when these practices come to dominate the economy as a whole or to dominate the most valuable industries in an economy. Intentionally ambiguous laws and regulations are common in such systems. Taken strictly, such laws would greatly impede practically all business; in practice, they are only erratically enforced. The specter of having such laws suddenly brought down upon a business provides incentive to stay in the good graces of political officials. Troublesome rivals who have overstepped their bounds can have the laws suddenly enforced against them, leading to fines or even jail time. Even in high-income democracies with well-established legal systems and freedom of the press a larger state is associated with more political corruption.
The states first known for crony capitalism were those involved in the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis such as Thailand and Indonesia. In these cases, the term initially was used to point out how family members of the ruling leaders become extremely wealthy with no non-political justification. Southeast Asian nations still score very poorly in rankings measuring this. Hong Kong, and Malaysia are perhaps most noted for this, and the term quickly came to by applied to the system of Oligarchs in Russia. Other states with notable examples of crony capitalism include India, in particular, the system after the 1990s liberalization whereby land and other resources were given at throwaway prices in the name of public private partnerships, Argentina;, and Greece. Wu Jinglian, one of China's leading economists and a longtime champion of its transition to free markets, says that it faces two starkly contrasting futures: a market economy under the rule of law or crony capitalism.
The Economist benchmarks countries based on a "Crony Capitalism Index" calculated via how much economic activity occurs in industries prone to cronyism. Its 2014 Crony Capitalism Index ranking listed Hong Kong, Russia and Malaysia in the top 3 spots.
|The neutrality of this section is disputed. (November 2012)|
More direct government involvement in a specific sector can also lead to specific areas of crony capitalism, even if the economy as a whole may be competitive. This is most common in natural resource sectors through the granting of mining or drilling concessions, but it is also possible through a process known as regulatory capture where the government agencies in charge of regulating an industry come to be controlled by that industry. Governments will often, in good faith, establish government agencies to regulate an industry. However, the members of an industry have a very strong interest in the actions of that regulatory body, while the rest of the citizenry are only lightly affected. As a result, it is not uncommon for current industry players to gain control of the "watchdog" and to use it against competitors. This typically takes the form of making it very expensive for a new entrant to enter the market.
A 1824 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned a New York State-granted monopoly ("a veritable model of state munificence" facilitated by one of the Founding Fathers, Robert R. Livingston) for the then-revolutionary technology of steamboats. Leveraging the Supreme Court's establishment of Congressional supremacy over commerce, the Interstate Commerce Commission was established in 1887 with the intent of regulating railroad "robber barons". President Grover Cleveland appointed Thomas M. Cooley, a railroad ally, as its first chairman and a permit system was used to deny access to new entrants and legalize price fixing.
The defense industry in the United States is often described as an example of crony capitalism in an industry. Connections with the Pentagon and lobbyists in Washington are described by critics as more important than actual competition, due to the political and secretive nature of defense contracts. In the Airbus-Boeing WTO dispute, Airbus (which receives outright subsidies from European governments) has stated Boeing receives similar subsidies, which are hidden as inefficient defense contracts. Other American defense companies were put under scrutany for no-bid contracts for Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina related contracts purportedly due to having cronies in the Bush administration.
Gerald P. O'Driscoll, former vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, stated that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became examples of crony capitalism. Government backing let Fannie and Freddie dominate mortgage underwriting. "The politicians created the mortgage giants, which then returned some of the profits to the pols - sometimes directly, as campaign funds; sometimes as "contributions" to favored constituents."
In its worst form, crony capitalism can devolve into simple corruption, where any pretense of a free market is dispensed with. Bribes to government officials are considered de rigueur and tax evasion is common; this is seen in many parts of Africa, for instance. This is sometimes called plutocracy (rule by wealth) or kleptocracy (rule by theft).
Corrupt governments may favor one set of business owners who have close ties to the government over others. This may also be done with racial, religious, or ethnic favoritism; for instance, Alawites in Syria have a disproportionate share of power in the government and business there. (President Assad is an Alawite.) This can be explained by considering personal relationships as a social network. As government and business leaders try to accomplish various things, they naturally turn to other powerful people for support in their endeavors. These people form hubs in the network. In a developing country those hubs may be very few, thus concentrating economic and political power in a small interlocking group.
Normally, this will be untenable to maintain in business; new entrants will affect the market. However, if business and government are entwined, then the government can maintain the small-hub network.
Raymond Vernon, specialist in economics and international affairs, wrote that the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, because they were the first to successfully limit the power of veto groups (typically cronies of those with power in government) to block innovations. "Unlike most other national environments, the British environment of the early 19th century contained relatively few threats to those who improved and applied existing inventions, whether from business competitors, labor, or the government itself. In other European countries, by contrast, the merchant guilds ... were a pervasive source of veto for many centuries. This power was typically bestowed upon them by government". For example, a Russian inventor produced a steam engine in 1766 and disappeared without a trace. "[A] steam powered horseless carriage produced in France in 1769 was officially suppressed." James Watt began experimenting with steam in 1763, got a patent in 1769, and began commercial production in 1775.
While the problem is generally accepted across the political spectrum, ideology shades the view of the problem's causes and therefore its solutions. Political views mostly fall into two camps which might be called the socialist and capitalist critique. The socialist position is braodly that economic, or wealthy, interests are given too much power to influence the government, and the capitalist position is broadly that the government is given too much power to influence the economy.
Critics of capitalism including socialists and other anti-capitalists often assert that crony capitalism is the inevitable result of any capitalist system. Jane Jacobs described it as a natural consequence of collusion between those managing power and trade, while Noam Chomsky has argued that the word "crony" is superfluous when describing capitalism. Since businesses make money and money leads to political power, business will inevitably use their power to influence governments. Much of the impetus behind campaign finance reform in the United States and in other countries is an attempt to prevent economic power being used to take political power.
Ravi Batra argues that "all official economic measures adopted since 1981...have devastated the middle class" and that the Occupy Wall Street movement should push for their repeal and thus end the influence of the super wealthy in the political process, which he considers a manifestation of crony capitalism.
Socialist economists, such as Robin Hahnel, have criticized the term as an ideologically motivated attempt to cast what is in their view the fundamental problems of capitalism as avoidable irregularities. Socialist economists dismiss the term as an apologetic for failures of neoliberal policy and, more fundamentally, their perception of the weaknesses of market allocation.
Capitalists generally oppose crony capitalism as well, but consider it an aberration brought on by governmental favors incompatible with 'true' free market. In this view, crony capitalism is the result of an excess of socialist-style interference in the market, which inherently will result in a toxic combination of corporations and government officials running the sector of the economy. Some advocates prefer to equate this problem with terms such as "corporatism, a modern form of mercantilism" to emphasize that the only way to run a profitable business in such systems is to have help from corrupt government officials in such a system. Even if the initial regulation was well-intentioned (to curb actual abuses), and even if the initial lobbying by corporations was well-intentioned (to reduce illogical regulations), the mixture of business and government stifle competition, a collusive result called regulatory capture. In his book The Myth of the Robber Barons, Burton W. Folsom, Jr. distinguished those that engage in crony capitalism—designated by him "political entrepreneurs"—from those who compete in the marketplace without special aid from government, whom he calls "market entrepreneurs" who succeed "by producing a quality product at a competitive price"