On the Disadvantages of Transparency for Government Reflections on Some Arguments Against Transparency as a Democratic Reform

Ricardo Cruz Pietro


Transparency has become a novel value of democracy. It has been embraced by governments and civil society as a preferred reform strategy for improving governance. As there are good reasons for this optimism, scarce attention is being paid to its limits and risks. Playing devil’s advocate, this paper surveys the literature to investigate two strong arguments against transparency as a democratic reform strategy, one from each end of the political spectrum. From the conservative end, it explores the notion that decision-making should be left to the experts and ruling is made best in isolation from pressures from the public. From the left, the idea that transparency is a strategy for legitimising questioned states and putting aside substantive reform. Both criticisms are found wanting against the arguments for transparency, while suggesting that there might be closely delimited spaces for governmental deliberation that could benefit from some privacy, and agreeing that the full benefits of transparency policies can only be achieved in conjunction with contextual democratic reform strategies. In assessing these claims, the article seeks to shed light on some of transparency’s most salient risks and limitations. 

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