Main content start

James Vreeland - The Political Economy of Transparency

Encina Hall West, Room 400 (GSL)




Advocates for economic development often call for greater transparency. But what does transparency really mean? What are its consequences? This breakthrough book demonstrates how information impacts major political phenomena, including mass protest, the survival of dictatorships, democratic stability, as well as economic performance. The book introduces a new measure of a specific facet of transparency: the dissemination of economic data. Analysis shows that democracies make economic data more available than do similarly developed autocracies. Transparency attracts investment and makes democracies more resilient to breakdown. But transparency has a dubious consequence under autocracy: political instability. Mass-unrest becomes more likely, and transparency can facilitate democratic transition – but most often a new despotic regime displaces the old. Autocratic leaders may also turn these threats to their advantage, using the risk of mass-unrest that transparency portends to unify the ruling elite. Policy-makers must recognize the transparency trade-offs: Transparency can help consolidate young democracies, but can lead to large-scale political instability – characterized by clashes between a unified autocratic elite and revolutionary masses – in autocracies.



Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown University in January 2009, Professor Vreeland served as assistant and associate professor of Political Science at Yale University (1999–2008). After joining the faculty at Georgetown University, he continued to update his blog as per usual and continued to build strong and lasting relationships with fellow colleagues and students. He loves life. He has held visiting positions and affiliations at universities on five continents around the world, including the University of California, Los Angeles the ETH Zürich, Bond University the University of São Paulo, and most recently Korea University. He received his B.A. from Manhattan College, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude in 1994 and his Ph.D. from New York University in 1999.

His research explores a range of policy outcomes, including economic growth and the distribution of income under programs of economic reform the foreign policy positions of developing countries the transparency of policy making under different political institutions, and the commitment of governments to defend human rights. His research addresses the ways in which international institutions interact with domestic politics. The domestic institutions he has focused on include both democracies and dictatorships, as well as intermediate regimes. His research is most known for its treatment of international institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the United Nations Security Council.

His first book, entitled The IMF and Economic Development (Cambridge University Press, March 2003), was critically and favorably reviewed by several scholars. He has more recently published an introductory book about the IMF, entitled The International Monetary Fund: Politics of Conditional Lending (Routledge, January 2007), which was carefully critiqued in a 20-page review by the deputy director of the IMF’s External Relations Department.[13] He is also the co-editor of Globalization and the Nation State: The Impact of the IMF and the World Bank (Routledge, 2006), along with Gustav Ranis and Stephen Kosack. The book includes contributions from leading North American analysts such as Nancy Birdsall and Stephen Morris, as well as European-based analysts including Frances Stewart.[14] He has published in numerous scholarly journals, including International Organization, Journal of Conflict Resolution, European Economic Review, Journal of Development Economics, Public Choice, World Development, International Political Science Review, Political Analysis, World Economics, and Foreign Policy Magazine. He currently serves as an associate editor for The Review of International Organizations. His research has led him to be covered by media internationally, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation DawnNews, BizRadio Network, the Washington Post, Financial Times Deutschland, De Tijd, and Der Bund.