Friday, March 19, 2010

ToT: Budgets should go onto Internet

No sensible person will argue against transparency in government. More information is generally a good thing, and in principle requiring government authorities to publish their budgets and spending details is the responsible thing to do. But a couple of things bother me about today's screed from the Goldwater Institute.

First, it's from the Goldwater Institute, the primary purpose of which is to help wrest government functions out of the hands of the people and into the loving care of corporations. The Courier is all too often a shill for this group, printing its press releases and pseudo-news uncritically and often unattributed to cover the source. GI is a highly skilled propaganda organ, famous for framing issues to look reasonable in support of its radical agenda.

Which brings me to the second problem. We all want transparency (except, apparently, when Republicans are in charge, since GI never demanded anything of the sort during the Bush regime), but consider the next step: you've got the data, so what do you do with it?

It's entirely reasonable to infer that reams of searchable data on government expenditures can help agencies identify redundancies and possible savings. That's all good. I would hope that we were hiring managers whose primary responsibility is to do exactly that, and if they're not I have to wonder what our state thinks a manager is supposed to be doing. But there's a lot to do, and more eyes on the problem can help.

What I don't want to see is a horde of angry, self-righteous right-wingers, whipped up by television fearmongers, peppering our government managers with ignorant, politically motivated demands and judgments.

All the data in the world is useless unless you know how to interpret it and understand its basis in context. How many of Goldwater's public-spirited citizens will sit down and do the research to understand what's behind a given expenditure before passing judgment on whether they like it?

I have a feeling GI hopes to employ the old government-as-sausage-making saw to its advantage in tearing down government, betting that showing people more details of government while keeping them ignorant of the whole picture and hammering on the government-is-bad button will fuel the torches-and-pitchforks mobs that help keep people divided and corporations running the show.

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