The More Closely We Are Watched, the Better We Behave?

Andrea Prat

in Transparency: The Key to Better Governance?

Published by British Academy

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780197263839
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734915 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

The More Closely We Are Watched, the Better We Behave?

Show Summary Details


This chapter provides a brief survey of the economic literature on transparency. The conceptual tool used by economists is the principal-agent model, a game-theoretic setting in which transparency corresponds to the ability of the principal to observe what the agent does. Holmström (1979) provides a powerful and general rationale for full transparency. One can argue that the increase in accountability is not sufficient to offset other drawbacks such as the violation of privacy, the direct cost of disclosure, or the revelation of sensitive information. Alternatively, one can attack the link between transparency and accountability: it is not necessarily true that more disclosure makes the agent behave better. Holmström showed that, in a world of complete contracts, the more the principal knows about the agent, the better the agent behaves. Some objections to Holmström – the right to privacy, the direct cost of disclosure, the risk that hostile parties learn sensitive information – are perfectly valid, but they find limited application in politics, corporate governance, and other important areas.

Keywords: transparency; principal-agent model; principal; agent; accountability; contracts; disclosure; privacy; politics; corporate governance

Chapter.  4967 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at British Academy »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.