Sunday, January 11, 2009

Finding transparency

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
January 11, 2009
By Bill Kraus

For good reasons the economy or, more accurately, restarting the economy is on the top of everyone’s short list for 2009.

Let’s not, however, lose sight of “transparency” as a worthy companion or, at worst, a number two on the list.

The multiple curses of covert operations, cover-ups, non-disclosure of political contributions are well known and deservedly under attack.

Has there been a successful and honorable covert operation anywhere recently except in your friendly neighborhood movie theater?

Has anyone who tried to cover up bad news had a better outcome than those who simply fessed up, apologized, atoned, and moved on?

Does anyone who insists that it is important for political contributions to remain anonymous have a cause that isn’t somewhat more than mildly suspicious and self-serving?

In 2008 a whole new category of catastrophes traceable to the lack of transparency emerged.

Would his clients be better off if they had asked Mr. Madoff what he was doing with their money and if they had been smart enough to get as far away from him as fast as possible when he clammed up?

Would the country be in such economic distress if our friendly bankers would have explained why they were giving mortgages to customers who had no hope of making the payments?

Would their business success have been undermined by hedge fund managers if they had fully disclosed what they were doing with all that money and what downside risks were attached to these activities?

These are rhetorical questions with obvious answers.

What is less obvious is the collateral advantage that comes with disclosure and transparency.

It affects behavior.

One of the first things you learn when you enter the public sector is that whatever you do and say is likely to end up on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. Most public servants (Illinois’s governors notwithstanding) tend to be a lot more careful about what they do and say.

The transparency that is part of these jobs is annoying, exasperating, inhibiting and often infuriating.

There are indisputable undesirable side effects to transparency.

It is, nonetheless, essential.

It is an essential predecessor to trust for one thing, and trust is the rock on which our entire political, social, economic system is built.

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