Fung and Weig seem to imply that the progressive transparency movement may, counterintutively, move views about government further to the Right. They argue that transparency initiatives which exclusively expose government fraud, inefficiencies, scandals, and corruptions will simply reinforce conservatives’ anti-government sentiments. It’s reasonable to extrapolate then that moderates and others could become more distrustful of government.
Their solution? More transparency, not less:
Fung and Weig’s argument is interesting to consider, but I didn’t completely buy it. People are already pretty doggone distrustful of government; convinced that our political system is broken and corrupt. It’s hard to be shocked anymore by the greed, deceit and incompetence of government and politicians reported daily or weekly. I also don’t think that further Bad Government news will necessarily cause someone to become more conservative. Perhaps it will. But in general, people of every political persuasion tend to read and interpret information so that it fits into their particular world view. I do, however, like and support the idea of a fuller picture of government. Of an A-F report card of government, if you will, rather than just an “F” report card.
Along these lines, Nick Judd recently discussed Jen Palhka‘s idea that “open data holds ‘citizens accountable to a definition of citizenship.'” The bulk of his blog post highlights a thought-provoking quote from Palhka, founder and executive director of Code for America:
Open Government vs Open Society: A False Dichotomy
By far, my biggest issue with Fung and Weil’s chapter was their treatment of open government as somehow taking away from the work that needs to be done in the private sector around transparency. A “major pitfall,” according to the authors, “is that all this energy devoted to making open government comes at the expense of leaving the operations of large private organizations – banks, manufacturers, health providers, food producers, drug companies, and the like — opaque and secret [their emphasis].” Excuse me? Since when did focusing on one aspect of societal corruption mean that all others would be abandoned? To make a sizable dent in an area, it’s important to focus on it and dig deep. Open government activists won’t be as effective if their efforts are spread thin. A robust, strong movement is needed, but that doesn’t mean that strong movements can’t also form around other sectors. And while I’m not as aware of watchdog groups in the private sector, from what I’ve read, there seems to be at least some oversite. You can see public interest in corporate transparency with the success of documentaries like Super Size Me (food industry) and Sicko (health care), and with groups like Walmart Watch (retail). Furthermore, working on government transparency will have a huge effect on corporate transparency. Think campaign finance reform. Government and corporate transparency are inextricably linked to one another!
This quote by Fung and Weil drives me a little batty: “should transparency enthusiasts invest their energies in open government or in creating an open society in which organizations of all sorts – in particular, private corporations – are much more transparent [their emphasis]?” Um… what? This either/or question is a false dichotomy… and pretty ridiculous. By working on open government, activists are working toward an open society. It’s not as if open gov folks are choosing one over the other. C’mon. And as I noted above, working on government transparency will effect corporate transparency. If our politicians weren’t as tied to Big Business, corporations would inevitably be held more accountable, no?
I’m all for an open society; that’s why I’m an open government proponent and enthusiast. Framing this as an open government versus “open society” argument doesn’t make any sense. It’s plain silly.