The Political Economy of Transparency: What Makes Disclosure Policies Sustainable?

KSG Working Paper No. RWP03-039

Institute for Government Innovation, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University OPS-02-03

46 Pages Posted: 6 May 2003

See all articles by Archon Fung

Archon Fung

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Mary Graham

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

David Weil

Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Elena Fagotto

Transparency Policy Project

Date Written: December 2004

Abstract

This paper explores the dynamics of transparency. It asks why some government-created systems of disclosure improve over time while others stagnate or degenerate into costly paperwork exercises. Transparency policies inevitably begin as unlikely compromises. Though transparency is universally admired in principle, its particular applications frequently conflict with other societal values or powerful political interests. Disclosing information can clash with efforts to protect proprietary information, guard personal privacy, or limit regulatory burdens. It can also clash with central economic and political objectives of target organizations that may view it as a threat to reputation, markets or political influence. At the same time, the benefits of disclosure are often diffuse. Beneficiaries may be consumers, investors, employees, and community residents. Such users are rarely organized to sustain support and oversight of transparency systems.

Keywords: transparency, information disclosure, regulation

JEL Classification: L51, K32, I18, D8, D82, G18, J28, M41, M45

Suggested Citation

Fung, Archon and Graham, Mary and Weil, David and Fagotto, Elena, The Political Economy of Transparency: What Makes Disclosure Policies Sustainable? (December 2004). KSG Working Paper No. RWP03-039, Institute for Government Innovation, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University OPS-02-03, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=384922 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.384922

Archon Fung

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9846 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)

Mary Graham

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-7891 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)

David Weil (Contact Author)

Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management ( email )

P.O. Box 549110/MS 035
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02454
United States

Elena Fagotto

Transparency Policy Project ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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