57 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2012 Last revised: 11 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 5, 2013
Transparency is often viewed as crucial to government accountability, but its measurement remains elusive. This concept encompasses many dimensions, which have distinct effects. In this paper, we focus on a specific dimension of transparency: governments' collection and dissemination of aggregate data. We construct a measure of this aspect of transparency, using an item response model that treats transparency as a latent predictor of the reporting of data to the World Bank's World Development Indicators. The resultant index covers 125 countries from 1980-2010. Unlike some alternatives (e.g., Freedom House), our measure -- the HRV Index -- is based on objective criteria rather than subjective expert judgments. Unlike newspaper circulation numbers, HRV reflects the dissemination of credible content -- in that it has survived the World Bank's quality control assessment. We find that HRV systematically ranks democracies as more transparent than either Freedom House or newspaper circulation figures. We argue that these differences are theoretically significant, and that HRV serves as a better predictor of government performance (1) in autocracies or (2) when the consequences of policy choices are unknown to the public. We demonstrate that HRV is a stronger predictor of a wide range of governance outcomes than is media circulation, particularly for autocratic regimes.
Keywords: Transparency, Measurement, Accountability, Item Response, Democracy, Autocracy
JEL Classification: C43, C11, P16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation