Mary Graham, Brookings, August 2002
Drawing on detailed profiles of disclosure systems for toxic releases, nutritional labeling, and medical errors, Graham explains why the move toward greater transparency has flourished during a time of regulatory retrenchment and why corporations have often supported these massive raids on proprietary information. However, Democracy by Disclosure, sounds a cautionary note. Just as systems of financial disclosure have come under new scrutiny in the wake of Enron’s collapse, systems of social disclosure deserve careful examination. Behind the seemingly simple idea of transparency, political battles rage over protecting trade secrets, minimizing regulatory burdens, and guarding national security. Like other forms of regulation, disclosure systems can be distorted by narrow scope, flawed metrics, minimal enforcement, or failure to adapt to changing markets and public priorities. Graham urges designers of future systems to heed lessons from early experience to avoid misleading the public.