When the Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, it was generally agreed that the West had won the Cold War. This was affirmed by the prosperity and possibilities awaiting citizens of Western countries, as opposed to the political and economic stagnation experienced by those in Communist states. A natural conclusion, much repeated at the time, was that capitalism had finally defeated communism.
This sweeping statement was only partially true. If one took capitalism and communism as the only two protagonists in the post–World War II struggle, it was easy to see that the latter had suffered a mortal blow. But there was a third, stealthier protagonist situated between them. This was a system best identified today as cronyism. For if capitalism did win over the other two contenders in 1991, its victory was short-lived. And in the years that have followed, it is cronyism that has captured an ever-increasing share of economic activity. A survey of the distribution of power and money around the world makes it clear: cronyism, not capitalism, has ultimately prevailed.
What is cronyism? In a previous article, I objected to the term "crony capitalism" on the grounds that cronyism is itself antithetical to the principles of capitalism and ought not be viewed as a derivative of it. Cronyism is, rather, a separate system that fallsbetween capitalism and state-controlled socialism. When a country drifts from capitalism toward socialism, the transitional period is one in which cronies rule the land.
Transitional cronyism claims to be capitalistic, whereas socialism claims to be egalitarian. But they are very similar, except for the size of the group of cronies at the top. In cronyistic societies, a larger group extracts a growing share of society’s wealth for themselves and their associates. In socialistic systems, a smaller group vies savagely for wealth and power: because putatively egalitarian economies are usually less efficient at generating wealth, there may be less to go around, making the infighting among socialist leaders that much more bitter.
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