The Post-Bureaucratic Age and Transparency

14 01 2010

How does ‘transparency’ fit in with the notion of an emerging post-bureaucratic age?

In the pre-bureaucratic age, the central government had no use for (or even concept of) ‘transparency’. Communication was slow, information sparse and obscure, and literacy rates low. The revolutionary impact of the printing press signifies the importance of the ownership of information; the telegraph system the power of swift communication.

As the bureaucratic state emerged, the government’s monopoly on information and (to a decreasing extent) mass communication functioned successfully. The central bureaucracy was the only body capable of collecting, collating, processing, and disseminating information on the scale required to make it useful. The necessities of the electoral cycle (in Britain, at least) meant that it was impossible to keep all governmental information away from the people. Some ‘transparency’ was inevitable, even desirable, if the bureaucracy was to retain authority. However, on the whole, central bureaucracies still operated from a highly-advantageous informational and communicative position.

The internet, computer processing,  mass-communication, mobile telephony, cheap travel, advances in education have combined to exacerbate the shift away from this model at an exponentially-increasing speed. The means of collecting, managing, and publishing information, have spread to the people. The bureaucratic state’s technological advantages, its overriding authority, and, most of all, its sheer manpower, no longer confer the presumption of information ownership that it formerly did. The justification for privileged state information (an inherent problem for a number of classical liberal thinkers) is fundamentally undermined. Transparency is now fundamental to any government wishing to call itself ‘democratic’ and really mean it.

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