On my on again off again issue -- I plead the increased expectations related to being a dean of a School! I do intend to return to this blog site systematically again. I'm teaching Competition, Cooperation and Choice this semester and we're reading Smith (Adam - TMS and WoN) and Smith (Vernon) plus a few people in between. So far it's really good fun in large measure because students from the Jepson School (LST) and the Robins School (Ecn) are so good.
David Levy and I are working on the role of experts and expertise in social science. We're much concerned of late -- in the light of the financial meltdown and various successful ponzi schemes -- with the ethical foundation of transparency. In our view, transparency is part and parcel with fair play. The basic idea is that transparency rules out unfair information advantages, i.e., secrecy. So, no one has an information advantage over anyone else. Lack of fairness comes into play when someone thinks there is no informational advantage but there really is one. This disconnect between belief and reality opens up the possibility of exploitation.
So why post this here? Our conceptualization harks back to Adam Smith. It's also got a very Knightian feel, with the emphasis on fair play.
How might it work? If something is common knowledge then it is transparent. It is common knowledge that the formula for Coke is a trade secret so the way we’re using the word, the fact of the secret is then transparent. What violates transparency? The false belief that something is not a secret. If people believed Coke's formula were known to all, that would violate transparency; if people believe that the methods and conditions for testing a drug were known to all when they were not widely known -- this would violate transparency. Since people trust drugs on the advice of experts, the fact of transparency is really important. This is especially important in the light of the sort of middling experts we have as a result of the division of labour. Some folks do the research on a drug. Results are published in a journal. A physician prescribes it. A consumer takes it. Do we have transparency -- as we've described it -- all along the way?