I find it amusing that Fox News yesterday featured stories about how it is participating in a suit (with Bloomberg) to get the Federal Reserve to release information about the specific banks bailed out or bolstered with money from the Fed and to what extent, while the WSJ ran a piece today about why the Fed should release this information. Yet Fox News and the WSJ are both terribly upset that WikiLeaks released raw reports on actions in Afghanistan. I'm all for releasing both kinds of information; government in general operates too much in the dark, relatively free of scrutiny from the people who are forced to fund it and on whose behalf it supposedly operates. In a decent society government would have almost no secrets. The fact that it has operated so secretly for so long -- and sold various portions of the population on the notion that such secrecy is essential and actually in the interest of those being blindfolded -- obviates any realistic notion of government transparency and breeds a culture of cover-up and eventual corruption.
One can see some rationale for secrecy. The Fed and its partisans will argue that if we knew which banks had been bolstered we might lose confidence in some of them and a bank run might even ensue. Keepers of military secrets will argue that letting loose of secrecy gives our enemies insight into how we operate and in some cases might reveal the names of people who cooperate with the U.S. and might therefore be targeted by insurgents and other bad guys.
Neither rationale holds up against the desirability of people knowing what their government is doing "on their behalf." In a sensible market weak players would be capable of being identified and would pay the price for their poor decisions rather than being bailed out in secrecy, making for a system in which there would be more incentives to make good decisions. In the military, it's often enough the case that our adversaries ((which we seem to create systematically; apparently governments need enemies to thrive) know full well what our government is up to, and the only people in the dark are Americans. Even here, however, secrecy is overrated; it is more often used to cover up embarrassments than to serve anything remotely resembling "national security," that catch-all concept so capable of covering a multitude of sins. In both cases we are talking more about history than about current operations. How long should government be allowed to keep its activities secret? Forever?
I haven't read more than a few of the WikiLeaks papers in question -- too much else to do -- but I've read a few along with news summaries of what's there, about which I'll have more to say in a future post.