Crony Capitalism and the Logrolling Culture

Ideas and Issues
“THE LAST ROLL”, by THOMAS NAST, published in “Harper’s Weekly” February 1886.

New Orleans    Logrolling is such a nice, archaic American expression that, excuse the pun, it just sort of rolls off of your tongue.

Wikipedia looks at the expression as a mutual back scratch:


Logrolling is the trading of favors, or quid pro quo, such as vote trading by legislative members to obtain passage of actions of interest to each legislative member.[1] In an academic context, the Nuttall Encyclopedia describes logrolling as “mutual praise by authors of each other’s work”. In organizational analysis, it refers to a practice in which different organizations promote each other’s agendas, each in the expectation that the other will reciprocate.


And, how often does one get to bring the legendary Davy Crockett into a modern conversation, yet here he is, front and center, according to some:


The first known use of the term was by Congressman Davy Crockett, who said on the floor (of the U.S. House of Representatives) in 1835, “my people don’t like me to log-roll in their business, and vote away pre-emption rights to fellows in other states that never kindle a fire on their own land.”[6]


Applied in other contexts, I wonder how different logrolling might be from crony capitalism. Quid pro quo’s are rife there as well, and although generally this is an insult hurled at developing countries and their business dealings, it also is something heard in the Tea Party critiques of Congress and modern American politics. Wikipedia offers:


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.


Hmmm. There do seem to be some similarities between the two, more a difference in degree than distinction.

All of this comes to mind reading the daily papers and opinion setting magazines. All of a sudden, the New York Times will have review of a book in the daily papers, plus the Sunday book review section, and if you are Patti Smith, Mary Louise Parker, or Gloria Steinem, by god you’ll be in the Style section as well and maybe land a profile in The New Yorker to boot and a little something-something in the Wall Street Journal and on down the line. The political philosopher Herbert Marcuse once famously referred to the media as the “flesh-eating machine,” but he may not have had his ear to the cash register for the logrolling “cha-ching!”

It’s not just a matter of reporters and papers currying favor, friends, and sales among authors, entertainers and cultural icons that seems so much like mutual backscratching that we wonder if we’re getting the real lowdown. Getting ready to recycle some magazines, I noticed a copy of Trout, published by Trout Unlimited last spring that I had forgotten to haul off to Montana this summer. Flipping through the pages from the back I found myself doing a page turn because the giant advertisements were accompanied by a 12-page spread on their buddy corporate partners in clothing, gear makers and the like, that was supposed to not be advertising. Was there any line between the two? Was this logrolling or crony capitalism disguised as thanks for financial support, and was there a difference? Are they really good and true environmentalists and conservationists or are they just passing the buck over to Trout Unlimited?

If you’re just Joe Sausagehead like most of us around the country and not walking the runway, living in Manhattan, or catching the train underneath the Capitol, how do you get the straight scoop anymore? How do you separate the stories from the sales pitch, no matter how subtle and avoid mutual handwashing and backscratching? Logrolling and crony capitalism seem to be something blind to the eye of the beholder.

I’m probably just grumpy today. I’m sure we’re all just supposed to take a deep breath and remember that this is just the “way things work.” Unless of course, you are “them,” and not “us.”