Transparency vs. generality

The cause of classical liberalism as a really existing possibility for
political reform has been harmed by bundling free markets with a ban on
transfers. This package deal has influenced people who think justice
requires transfers to eschew free markets. If we had spent the last
forty years hammering away at liberal fundamentals like transparency
and generality instead of the natural right to not be taxed, our
society would now be closer to the free market, limited government
ideal.

That is from Will Wilkinson, commenting on Asymmetrical Information.  I am personally a bigger fan of transparency than generality, noting that the two often conflict.  What if only some people need helping?  The best policy response won’t be perfectly general, nor should we force it to be. 

Many fiscal conservatives argue that Medicare should be a welfare program and not for all old people.  If you wish to argue that it must be universal to be adequately funded, you are giving up on transparency but holding on to generality.   

Will’s paragraph makes me wonder whether value of transparency is, or ever can be, transparent.

Comments

I think Will's claim is overstated. Do we really think there is a broader constituency for transparency than there is for tax cuts? It is a more subtle, abstract and complex idea. Do we believe that abstraction and subtlety _help_ get laws through Congress?

Yes, this approach will help in academia, getting many clueless professors to realize that rent control is less intellectually respectable than the Flat Earth Society. But in the American political system, having supporters at Harvard is a negative, not a positive, for your cause.

I can’t imagine a transfer ever being trashed on the grounds that it is not transparent. A minimum wage hike would not obviously fail a transparency test. Everyone knows that low wage workers are getting more money. How is that non transparent? I’m a skeptic about constitutional amendments actually checking the government anyway, but the whole concept of transparency here seems ideologically loaded to the point of making it useless as a tool for change.

There is something I am not getting here. How can any government economic policy not be transparent?

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