Wendy from Lake Leelanau
called in to comment on the phrase crony capitalism. It refers to practices that subvert the free
market and legal constraints, relying instead on favoritism, payoffs, and a good-old-boy
network. Wendy’s point was that the word cronyism by itself would cover the
practice, since it represents a perversion of legitimate capitalism.
She then asked about the
origin of the word crony. There are two words that share the crone/crony
spelling. Crone, from the Dutch, started out meaning an old ewe. Then it came
to mean a cantankerous, withered old woman. It has nothing to do with cronyism and everything to do with witch stereotyping.
Crony was 17th
century college slang for an intimate friend or associate. By the 19th
century, in America, cronyism had come to mean the appointment of friends to
government posts even if they weren’t particularly qualified. There’s the
predecessor of crony capitalism.
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