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Political Scientist Makes Case Against Transparency in American Politics

CC BY-SA 2.0 / Tom Finzel / Cherry Washington MonumentIn a recent op-ed piece for business newspaper Financial Times, acclaimed US pop political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggested that too much transparency in US politics has hurt government effectiveness.
In a recent op-ed piece for business newspaper Financial Times, acclaimed US pop political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggested that too much transparency in US politics has hurt government effectiveness. - Sputnik International
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In a recent op-ed piece for business newspaper Financial Times, acclaimed US pop political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggested that too much transparency in US politics has hurt government effectiveness.

American political economist, chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest and author Francis Fukuyama, attends a conference during the first day of the 2013 Economic Forum in Aix-en-Provence (Rencontres Economiques d'Aix-en-Provence) on July 5, 2013 - Sputnik International
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Fukuyama, best known for his argument that Western-style political and economic liberalism had definitively triumphed in the aftermath of the Cold War and brought about 'the end of history', writes that while transparency theoretically "allows citizens to keep their rulers accountable," the reality is that "demands for certain kinds of transparency have hurt government effectiveness, particularly with regard to its ability to deliberate."

The former neocon, who began calling himself a 'realistic Wilsonianist' in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, explained that a number of US statutes on transparency, "passed decades ago in response to perceived government abuses…have [since] had a number of unfortunate consequences."

These include, according to Fukuyama, laws such as the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, aimed at ensuring that public agency consultations with groups outside the government meet a number of 'onerous' criteria and are formally approved, and the 1976 Government in the Sunshine Act, aimed at ensuring that the deliberations of government agencies are open to the public. 

According to the scholar, "these obligations put a serious damper on informal consultations with citizens, and make it difficult for officials to talk to one another…When the process [of deliberation] is open to public scrutiny, officials fear being hounded for a word taken out of context." As a result, "they resort to cumbersome methods of circumventing the regulations, such as having one-on-one discussions so as not to trigger a group rule, or having subordinates do all the serious work."

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Fukuyama then went on to challenge the 1966 Freedom of Information Act, noting that while it was originally meant for use by investigative journalists, it has since been turned into a tool by corporate interests, and "weaponized" for political advantage, "as when the activist group Judicial Watch used it to obtain email documents on the Obama administration's response to the 2012 attack on the US compound in Benghazi."

The scholar even went after C-SPAN's coverage of Congressional deliberations, noting that instead of "debating with colleagues," members of Congress now spend their time "addressing activist audiences in the media ether."

Ultimately, forgetting about the massive problems caused by the lack of transparency facing the US political system, from the never-ending scandals relating to mass surveillance, to the case of Citizens United, which has allowed shady business interests, lobbyists and foreign interests to pump billions of dollars into the US electoral process, Fukuyama boldly proclaimed that "national security aside, the [US] federal government's executive branch is" actually "probably one of the most transparent organizations on Earth. In his words, "no corporation, labor union, lobbying group or non-profit organization is subject to such scrutiny."

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Challenging his own argument by citing the work of Professor John Dilulio of the University of Pennsylvania, Fukuyama acknowledged only that "the real problem…is that most of the work of government has been outsourced to contractors who face none of the transparency requirements of the government itself," with it being "an impossible task even to establish the number of such contractors in a single American city," let alone "how they are performing their jobs."

Calling for US legislators and officials to be given more space for deliberations, "just as families need to protect their privacy when debating their finances or how to deal with a wayward child," Fukuyama concluded his piece by noting that legislators shouldn't need to "[don] a straitjacket of rules specifying how they must talk to each other, and to citizens."

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