A Finnish economics professor who works at MIT called Bengt Holmström has commented recently that democracy is not being served well by too much transparency in politics. In a recent interview with one of our main newspapers, Helsingin Sanomat, he claimed that increased transparency is the reason why people do not trust the political system. He said that politics has become too transparent so that compromises are more difficult to achieve with politicians constantly in the spotlight. This, he claims, undermines the quality of the decisions, which in turn frustrates confidence in the political system and decision-makers.
It is common sense that politicians should always be in the spotlight and not neglected by the press and by the voters. That is the very basis of our democratic system. Even if voters neglect to follow what is being decided in the political body, every voter still has the right to know what is being decided and why, and on that basis cast their vote at every election.
It takes time and trouble to follow what politicians and their civil servants are deciding on behalf of the nation. Many topics are complex and cannot be reduced to simple-to-understand facts. We have a group of ministers and their ministries and 200 members of Parliament who are paid to make these decisions on our behalf and an active media and outside specialists who follow their activities.
Is Holmström saying that the flow of information should be limited to mere crumbs to voters?
Is he suggesting that experienced journalists and other specialists should be restricted from receiving detailed information about big and small proposals being considered by our representatives?
If he is then he is clearly wrong. The media, including this newspaper, receives, collects and reports detailed information from ministers, politicians and civil servants about major proposals like the healthcare reform, labor market reforms, state subsidies top businesses, topics relating to deregulation, etc. The list is long but good transparency is the norm in the Nordic countries, and this has a long and solid tradition.
In general, it only takes one phone call or one email to elicit much useful information from these sources.
But it is possible that his comments are limited to today’s ongoing frustration suffered by the 2 major rightwing parties in our present government who are experiencing a failure to pass proposals in Parliament because they have not been properly discussed and planned. This government has got used to spend money on financing the “beautification” and “branding” of politics and policies by using the writing skills of numerous companies like Miltton, Kreab, Ellun kanat, Pohjoisranta, SEK Public, etc… The list of such companies is long and fruitful for the owners, whose job it is to craft good stories for delivery to unsuspecting voters for the benefits of the politicians and their friends.
If this is what he is talking about, then he can be forgiven for sending out a message of support for a lame duck government, meaning that we can safely ignore his comments as an aberration on a hot summer’s day!
If, on the other hand, he is seriously debating that limits should be placed on transparency, then he would be better off as Trump’s advisor from the ivory towers of MIT.