"...favoritism is just what it sounds like; it's favoring a person not because he or she is doing the best job but rather because of some extraneous feature-membership in a favored group... Favoritism can be demonstrated in hiring, honoring, or awarding contracts. A related idea is patronage, giving public service jobs to those who may have helped elect the person who has the power of appointment.
...Cronyism is a more specific form of favoritism, referring to partiality towards friends and associates. ...Cronyism occurs within a network of insiders-the "good ol' boys," who confer favors on one another.
What do favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism have to do with ethics?
One of the most basic themes in ethics is fairness, stated this way by Artistotle: "Equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally." Favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism all interfere with fairness because they give undue advantage to someone who does not necessarily merit this treatment.
In the public sphere, favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism also undermine the common good. When someone is granted a position because of connections rather than because he or she has the best credentials and experience, the service that person renders to the public may be inferior.
...favoritism is often covert (few elected officials are foolish enough to show open partiality to friends, and family)...
What ethical dilemmas do favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism present?
...Friends and family can usually be counted on for loyalty, and officeholders are in a good position to know their strengths.
So what's the problem?
...The American Civil Service Act was passed in 1883 in large part because so many patronage jobs, down to dogcatcher, were being filled by people whose only qualification for employment was their support for a particular party or candidate. Also, the appearance of favoritism weakens morale in government service, not to mention public faith in the integrity of government.
Reasonable people will differ about the appointment of friends and family in high-level positions, but public officials should be aware that such choices can give the appearance of unfairness. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 state legislatures have found the practice of nepotism troubling enough to enact laws against it. Others may restrict the hiring of relatives or friends in more general conflict-of-interest rules.
Public officials should also note that dilemmas involving favoritism extend beyond hiring and contracting practices to the more general problem of influence."
Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman