December 09, 2010

Umair Haque puts out a great post about wikileaks. I'm quoting a chunk here. But read the whole thing.

Consider just how moribund yesterday's institutions are when it comes to information collecting and sharing. Take transparency in corporations. It's built on a set of institutions crafted in and for the industrial age — like annual and quarterly reports. Four times a year, boardrooms publish updates to their accounts, and once a year, a hefty report explaining and discussing them.

Now ask yourself: does that make even a tiny sliver of sense in a world where I can trade equities from nearly any beach in the world, hundreds of times a minute, using my iPhone? It's an obsolete institution, where my demand for information — to analyze, synthesize, and integrate — has vastly outstripped the capacity to supply it. Hence, stocks froth up and down before and after earnings report releases. When I can't get new information from the horse's mouth, I rely on your opinion, the latest rumor, or what talking heads are paid to say. Result: boom, crash, rinse, repeat. But the real question is one of institutional obsolescence. Why, for example, can't we have continuously updated earnings releases — that let us see what companies are earning in real-time — for a continuously connected world?

Sure: there's a balance to be struck between confidentiality and disclosure. But I'd argue that we're not even close to discovering it. Right now, yesterday's organizations — from corporations to Congress — have a gaping, yawning disclosure gap: the how, what, why, how and when of disclosure simply isn't good enough for markets and communities to be able to allocate and utilize resources productively or efficiently. That's why the traditional understanding of everything from GDP to "jobs" to "profit" to "IPO" is limited.

And the result of an undersupply of disclosure is toxic, perverse incentives. A CEO can make hundreds of millions for running a once-thriving company into the ground because he (or she) can earn his mega-bonus faster than you can stop him from earning it. And the systemic result of that is crisis, stagnation, and decline.

My guess is that, like updating GDP for the 21st century, real-time corporate reporting could create new markets, companies, and much-needed jobs. It might ignite novel sources of advantage — while of course creating disadvantage for companies who won't or can't play by its rules. But prosperity is always going to accrue to those who innovate yesterday's rusting, creaking institutions.

(BTW : my personal / political thoughts about wikileaks are on my other blog.)
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