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Government transparency and policymaking


  • Justin Fox



We argue that making lawmakers more accountable to the public by making it easier to identify their policy choices can have negative consequences. Specifically, we analyze a model of political agency with a single lawmaker and a representative voter. In our model, the lawmaker has better information than the voter about the appropriateness of alternative policy courses. In addition, the voter is uncertain about the incumbent's policy preferences – specifically, the voter is worried the incumbent is an ideologue. Our model suggests that when lawmakers expect their policy choices to be widely publicized, for those lawmakers sufficiently concerned about reelection, the desire to select policies that lead the public to believe they are unbiased will trump the incentive to select those policies that are best for their constituents. Hence, lawmakers who would do the right thing behind close doors may no longer do so when policy is determined in the open. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Suggested Citation

  • Justin Fox, 2007. "Government transparency and policymaking," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 23-44, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:131:y:2007:i:1:p:23-44
    DOI: 10.1007/s11127-006-9103-3

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Andrea Prat, 2005. "The Wrong Kind of Transparency," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(3), pages 862-877, June.
    2. James M. Snyder, 2005. "Why Roll Calls? A Model of Position-Taking in Legislative Voting and Elections," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 21(1), pages 153-178, April.
    3. Timothy Besley & Robin Burgess, 2002. "The Political Economy of Government Responsiveness: Theory and Evidence from India," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1415-1451.
    4. Smart, Michael & Sturm, Daniel M., 2013. "Term limits and electoral accountability," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 93-102.
    5. Sumon Majumdar & Sharun W. Mukand, 2004. "Policy Gambles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1207-1222, September.
    6. Bryan Caplan, 2002. "Systematically Biased Beliefs About Economics: Robust Evidence of Judgemental Anomalies from the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 433-458, April.
    7. Eric Maskin & Jean Tirole, 2004. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1034-1054, September.
    8. Bryan Caplan, 2000. "Rational Irrationality: A Framework for the Neoclassical-Behavioral Debate," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 26(2), pages 191-211, Spring.
    9. Besley, Timothy & Coate, Stephen, 1998. "Sources of Inefficiency in a Representative Democracy: A Dynamic Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 139-156, March.
    10. Caplan, Bryan, 2001. "Rational Irrationality and the Microfoundations of Political Failure," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 107(3-4), pages 311-331, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kimiko Terai & Amihai Glazer, 2014. "Budgets under Delegation," Keio-IES Discussion Paper Series 2014-007, Institute for Economics Studies, Keio University.
    2. Stadelmann, David & Portmann, Marco & Eichenberger, Reiner, 2014. "Full Transparency of Politicians' Actions Does Not Increase the Quality of Political Representation," Journal of Experimental Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(01), pages 16-23, March.
    3. Landa, Dimitri & Le Bihan, Patrick, 2015. "Policy Unbundling and Special Interest Politics," IAST Working Papers 15-32, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    4. Vlaicu, Razvan & Whalley, Alexander, 2016. "Hierarchical accountability in government," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 85-99.
    5. Kolstad, Ivar & Wiig, Arne, 2009. "Is Transparency the Key to Reducing Corruption in Resource-Rich Countries?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 521-532, March.
    6. Lockwood, Ben, 2017. "Confirmation Bias and Electoral Accountability," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 11(4), pages 471-501, February.
    7. Prato, Carlo & Wolton, Stephane, 2014. "The Voters' Curses: The Upsides and Downsides of Political Engagement," MPRA Paper 53482, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Kimiko Terai & Amihai Glazer, 2015. "Principal-Agent Problems When Principal Allocates a Budget," Keio-IES Discussion Paper Series 2015-012, Institute for Economics Studies, Keio University.
    9. Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan & Landa, Dimitri, 2015. "Political accountability and sequential policymaking," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 95-108.
    10. Patacconi, Andrea & Vikander, Nick, 2015. "A model of public opinion management," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 73-83.

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    Government transparency; Political agency;


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