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What are Cronies?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Cronies are close friends who have a long history with each other. Long-term friends and companions tend to be especially close to each other, and their relationships are often mutually beneficial. As a result, the meaning of the word “crony” has twisted slightly from its original sense, and today it is used primarily to refer to cronyism, a type of political corruption which is characterized by doing favors for old friends and long-term companions.

In the original sense, “crony” appears to have emerged at Cambridge in the 1660s, and it is believed to be derived from the Greek khronos, or “time,” the same root behind words like “chronology” and “chronometer.” Originally, cronies were simply old and well-established friends who were viewed as pleasant and enjoyable company. In the 1900s, however, the term began to acquire more sinister implications, as politicians set their friends up with lucrative government contracts or positions.

The traditional sense of the word is still retained in some circles, but people more commonly use “cronies” with a sinister bent, suggesting a whiff of corruption and nepotism which goes beyond simple friendship. Cronyism is illegal in many countries, as are other forms of corruption, but it can sometimes be difficult to prove, and politicians may choose to take advantage of this to advance their friends in the political hierarchy.

The history of cronyism is, of course, quite ancient, and numerous politicians throughout history have been accused of granting favors to their cronies. In some cases, historians have suggested that this form of corruption has ultimately led to political instability in some cultures, hastening the downfall of governments and empires. Certainly, cronyism is often viewed as especially repugnant by the citizens of a nation, so cases in which politicians are convicted of cronyism can be politically explosive.

For politicians, engaging in cronyism has several advantages. In the first place, of course, it cements long-lasting friendships, building stronger ties between old friends. People who gain positions, power, or contracts through cronyism are also beholden to their cronies, which can be advantageous later on when the politician needs a favor in return. Cronyism also surrounds a politician with people who are loyal to him or her, which can be politically useful.

Where cronyism is illegal, politicians are generally careful to avoid accusations of cronyism, to ensure that they continue to be viewed as people with integrity. In some cases, politicians may even attempt to distance themselves from old cronies, especially when they are in a position to help old friends out, to ensure that those friends come by favors fairly, rather than through corrupt means.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By normal — On Jun 17, 2014

We are fortunate in USA to have a formal system of checks and balances as well as a Bill of Rights to protect investigative reporters. Maybe cronyism can not be totally eliminated but at least it can be controlled and managed to a great degree.

By julies — On Apr 26, 2012

My husband and I are close friends with three other couples who we have been through thick and thin with.

We are all close to the same age, and raised our kids at the same time. It is nice to have close friends like that as you go through the ups and downs of life.

We actually refer to each other as cronies and find comfort in knowing we have this type of friendship with each other.

We know that all of them would do anything they could to help us out, and we would do the same for them. This is much different than the cronyism that is part of the ongoing political corruption.

I don't think politicians view their cronies in the same way I see mine.

By Mykol — On Apr 25, 2012

It is hard for me to trust politicians, and I can see how many of them would use old established relationships like that to further their career.

I also imagine it can be somewhat difficult for this to be tracked down and used against them. It would be hard for me to live in a world where you always wondered if people wanted to be your friend for ulterior motives.

I would be surprised if there weren't very many politicians who didn't have cronies they relied on for favors from time to time.

There is probably a fine line between what is corrupt or illegal, and what is good old-fashioned friendship when it comes to the political word.

By andee — On Apr 24, 2012

It's too bad something that had such a pleasant original definition turned into something that is seen as corrupt and illegal.

I certainly prefer the original definition, as there are few things in life better than old, close friendships.

This is a far cry from the cronyism that is common within the political scene.

Some of my closest friends are those that I have been friends with for years. I never referred to them as cronies, but in a sense, that is what they are.

These are the friends who know you very well, have seen you go through good times and bad times, and love and accept you for who you are.

There are no strings attached or favors expected with this type of friendship.

By Perdido — On Apr 24, 2012

The very word “cronies” sounds like it would mean something bad or scary. It conjures up images of old witches in my mind, cackling and coming up with some new evil potion.

I think it's strange that old friends are referred to as “cronies.” It almost sounds like something a young person would call a couple of old people as an insult. In fact, I thought the word was a derogatory term before I read this article.

I don't pay much attention to politics, but next time I hear about cronyism on the news, I will know what they are talking about. It's always nice to expand my nearly nonexistent political vocabulary!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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