The Limits of Transparency

June 22, 2018

Transparency is viewed as a self-evident good in Western society. Etzioni reexamines the theoretical assumptions underlying the thesis that transparency plays a major role in holding democratic governments accountable. His analysis reveals that transparency plays a much smaller role than is often assumed. In addition, Etzioni finds that transparency cannot be relied upon to replace regulation, both because it is, itself, a form of regulation and because of the way in which democracies actually function. In assessing transparency, one must take into account a continuum composed of the order of disutility and the level of information costs. The higher the score on both variables, the less useful transparency is. Moreover, these scores need not be particularly high to greatly limit the extent to which the public can rely on transparency for most purposes.