Transparency as a Political Principle


In the Declaration of Independence, sandwiched between the bold announcement of regime-change and an affirmation of natural rights, Thomas Jefferson penned an often-overlooked phrase, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

To justify separation from England, our early revolutionaries recognized the prudence of transparency. As a political principle, transparency bolsters justice. When truth brings injustice to light, protection comes to sufferers and accountability comes to tyrants.

Thus, the Declaration served not merely as a defiant text, but as a form of self-protection for the colonists and as an opportunity for accountability for the King of England.

When the war was won, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay recognized that the weakened colonies needed to unite under a common law. Together, they published the Federalist Papers to convince a nearly nascent nation to create a constitution.

In Federalist Papers 1, Alexander Hamilton enjoined the principle of transparency when introducing the papers. He wrote, “the consciousness of good intentions disdains ambiguity…my arguments shall be open to all and may be judged by all. They shall at least be done in a spirit which will not disgrace the cause of truth.” Of course, ‘Publius’’ task ended in success.

In the marketplace (of both material goods and immaterial ideas), freedom works in beautiful tandem with transparency. With a proliferation of both information and choice, free individuals form the best solutions for themselves and their communities.

Indeed, the principle of transparency is fundamental to the American way of life.

However, some of our institutions behave in a manner akin to King George III by refusing to adopt policies of transparency. By doing so, they are engaging in acts of self-preservation, while working against the best interests of the American public. Below are three such examples of how lack of transparency hurts individuals:

  1. In American healthcare, hospital providers and insurance companies work together to ensure that costs are shrouded in secrecy. PRI President Sally Pipes has written frequently on how hospitals disobey federal rules by refusing to publish cash prices, insurance plans prices, and commercial negotiated prices. Monopolizing the information on the true costs of healthcare, results in absurd prices with an increasing proportion of paychecks going to health insurance. As the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported in December, half of U.S. adults say they skip necessary care or prescriptions because of cost. Foregoing care can lead to adverse health outcomes.
  1. As PRI Fellow Kerry Jackson recently pointed out, 49 of the states publish line-by-line government spending. Can you guess which solitary state refuses? If instinct told you California, you are correct.From literally losing track of $2.7 billion in bond money, to over 21,000 unemployment claims fraudulently paid to prison inmates, the Golden State taxpayers greatly need light shined on their state’s mismanaged coffers.
  1. The last several years have seen a marked tension between parents and school boards. Through virtual schooling, parents glimpsed into the classroom and…were none too pleased. Witnessing classrooms plagued with radical and explicit curriculum, some parents pressed back by advocating for curriculum transparency. In fact, several states now have educational curriculum transparency bills working their way through the legislatures.

Transparency holds bad actors accountable and safeguards citizens, thereby ensuring unity. As our Founders knew, for the healthy functioning of our democratic republic, the American people need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

McKenzie Richards is a Policy Associate at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top