Openness. Not Always the Best Policy

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How far can we trust politicians? The Wikileaks controversy shows that much of what we think of as democracy is conducted behind closed doors. But perhaps that is as it should be. Total freedom of information, argues Barry Turner, would make effective government impossible.

You don’t have to be crooked to go into politics, but it helps. That is the typical voter talking. It is a view strengthened with every well publicized instance of chicanery in high places. But the real causes of cynicism go much deeper and have more to do with the way we manage our democracy than with individual transgressions.

As with so much else that is changing in the social fabric, the starting point for discussion is the power of modern communications. Instant news has revolutionized our perception of democracy. For public consumption, political issues are reduced to the lowest common denominator of understanding—or supposed understanding. Politicians are bombarded with deceptively simple questions which...

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