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Words that think for us: transparency and accountability

Whenever a costly and useless bureaucratic reform is proposed, it is said to be “in the interests of transparency.” Sometimes the word “accountability” is added, or—for extra force—“democratic accountability.” The whole mantra is reeled off with the sub-cortical fluency of “Catholic and Apostolic Church.” It is an idiom of benediction, soothing and meaningless.

In a not too distant past, only windows (and occasionally prose styles and psyches) were transparent. Then the word was taken up by management gurus. “Corporate transparency” became all the rage. Deferential as ever to the private sector, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair imposed transparency requirements on…

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