In a recent assessment of transparency and accountability among state governments, The Center for Public Integrity gave Minnesota a “D-“ grade, ranking 28th in its 2015 State Integrity Investigation. Particularly, the investigation found that Minnesotan’s right to access information is largely ineffective. Last week, Pew Research Center released a poll in which only 19 percent of Americans said they trust their government always or most of the time. Yet while transparency is typically considered a political ideal, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach to all forms of governance.

James Hollyer is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, whose research focuses on the relationship between government transparency and things like accountability, political instability, or democracy. He contributes to the HRV Transparency Project, which aims to provide a credible measure of governmental transparency, specifically, through how countries report their national economic data to international organizations. He writes to MPR:

Transparency has, in recent years, become a mantra for advocates of good government. However, the benefits of transparency vary by context — it should not be seen as a universal ideal. Work in political science and economics suggests that publicizing deliberative processes in legislatures may lead representatives to pander to the public; or may cause potentially beneficial negotiations between countries or legislators to be derailed. Clearly, transparency in certain matters related to national security may have deleterious effects.

In recent work, with Peter Rosendorff (New York University) and Jim Vreeland (Georgetown University), I examine the effects of a very specific form of transparency: government’s collection and dissemination of credible information on the economy. Both businesses and citizens rely on such information in determining where and whether to invest and in assessing the economic performance of governments. We might therefore expect such the effects of such disclosure to be relatively benign.

However, even the effects of this form of transparency hinge critically on political context. In democracies, greater economic transparency is indeed beneficial. Transparent democracies are less likely to collapse — revert to autocracy — than their opaque counterparts. Where information is readily available, citizens are better able to hold their leaders to account, and less able to castigate their fellow citizens as ill-informed or irrational. Thus, the electoral process gains legitimacy. Where transparency is lacking, citizens may find that the electoral process is unable to hold politicians to account. They therefore appear to be more willing to turn to the streets or back coups against failing leaders.

In non-democracies, transparency plays a different role. More readily available information implies that individual citizens are better able to infer the level of dissatisfaction their fellows feel for the government. This knowledge facilitates the coordination of protest. Transparent autocracies experience more frequent protests and strikes than opaque autocracies, and are thus more likely to collapse. On the one hand, this may be a good thing, as it increases the probability democratic institutions replace autocratic ones. However, this need not always be the case — one autocratic regime may simply follow another. And political instability brings its own, substantial, costs.

Today’s Question: What are the consequences of governmental transparency?

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Crowds have gathered outside the 4th precinct police station for about two weeks to protest the police shooting of Jamar Clark. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has referred to encampments outside the station as a public safety hazard, saying there have been “near daily threats to burn the precinct, kill our officers and hurt people.”

One protester, Andrew Russell said, “If they tell us answers, we will leave. Until you release the tape, we ain’t going nowhere.”

“They’re going to have to physically remove me from here,” Lakiela King said, the mother of Teven, a victim in last week’s shooting at the precinct which harmed five protesters.

Draper Larkins, 38, returned to the precinct for the first time this morning after being shot last week. “We aren’t going nowhere,” he said.

Today’s Question: Is it time for the 4th Precinct encampment to end?

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American negotiators are buoyed by broad public support for stronger international and domestic actions that address climate change as they head into the United Nations climate change conference in Paris on Monday.

Two-thirds of Americans support the United States joining a binding international agreement to curb growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but a slim majority of Republicans remain opposed, the poll found. Sixty-three percent of Americans — including a bare majority of Republicans — said they would support domestic policy limiting carbon emissions from power plants. (New York Times)

Today’s Question: Should the U.S. join a binding international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions?

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In the first half of 2015, around 137,000 people traveled across the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. Traveling through terrible conditions aboard unsafe boats and dinghies, approximately 800 people died last April in the largest refugee shipwreck on record. The majority are fleeing from war or persecution at Read more