What transparency means in the 21st century: A comment and an example

The financial implosion has brought new calls for transparency by businesses and investment funds. The federal stimulus has brought similar calls to track projects and spending openly. The concept of transparency is popular on the left and the right. Who can be against giving taxpayers or shareholders more information? And when the alternative is heavy-handed regulation or opacity, transparency looks like a superior alternative.

What is now clear, though, is that 20th century notions of transparency, defined basically as providing more information, is unlikely to help governments and citizens understand what’s going on in an increasingly complex world. Besides, companies have been spitting out quarterly reports, earnings statements and calls, and accounting records for years, decades in some cases.

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