Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Perils of Openess

I'm posting this because I think Zakaria has a some good points, but mainly because he highlights the dangers of "openness" and "transparency". Yes, these can be good, but not always. A law professor of mind, who Arthur'd the Iowa Administrative Procedure Act,wrote some time ago in our local paper recommending further openness in state government. I didn't write a response, but I should have. In fact, sometimes you need the quiet of closed meetings to entertain matters, to float trial balloons and the like. He argued that "mold grows in the dark recesses", but I would counter with a different metaphor: seeds need the dark, damp hidden recesses of the soil to grow and sprout. Expose a plant to the sun too soon and it will shrivel-up and die. A good example of this is the constitutional convention of 1787: it was closed. Did it create a perfect constitution? No (for instance, it condoned slavery), but the convention probably would have failed if it had been open and transparent. Of course, the constitution did eventually go through an extremely detailed vetting before adoption (thus giving us the Federalist papers). Contrast this with the French convention in 1789 (or thereabouts): it was open, and its creation could not last. (Thanks to Jon Elster for this insight.) Anyway, openness and transparency have their downsides. Beware of reformers bearing gifts!

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