Skip to comments.Why WikiLeaks Matters More (And Less) than You Think
Posted on 12/08/2010 11:58:05 PM PST by AZLiberty
Rather than seeing WikiLeaks through the lens of morality or national security, let's look at it through an institutional lens. To those of you who've been reading this blog for a while, that may be second nature. But to the newcomers, let me explain what I mean.
Perhaps the most basic economic institution is GDP. And unfortunately, it's also one of the most in need of radical institutional innovation. So at the Cancun climate talks, one country has already committed to updating it for the 21st century by including the costs of environmental damage to make the numbers a little more meaningful. That country? Not America, the UK, or France but India.
When GDP's updated to reflect environmental costs, so must be corporate income statements otherwise, the math simply won't work. The informational basis of the economy will be altered. Customers, investors, and regulators will have more and better information. In turn and here's the crucial part India's likely to be able to create the future: stuff that's globally hypercompetitive, because it's lean, clean, and green, igniting a new basis for export-led growth, and, more than likely, offering better sources of advantage.
Now let's go back to the much-maligned WikiLeaks. From an economic perspective, its goal is much the same as India's updated GDP 2.0: more, better information, faster.
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.
To focus only on WikiLeaks is to miss the big picture of what's happening with information just like focusing only on Napter in 1999 would have led you to miss the bigger revolution in digital music. The original Napster was shut down in 2001, but its P2P heirs continue to share pirated files, and it paved the way for the rise of iTunes and Pandora and the fall of Tower Records. Similarly, you can jail Julian Assange, but you probably can't jail every 17 year old hacker whose blood is boiling because you just jailed Julian Assange nor can you get a restraining order on every fed-up associate, manager, or cashier who wants to blow the whistle on you.
The real scandal might just be this: There are few secrets bigger and more terrible than the ones that are hiding in plain sight. The ones we ignore, sweep under the rug, and won't, don't, or can't discuss. (And in fact, many of the "embarassing" WikiLeaks cables only confirm in sharper language what informed readers already knew.)
Here's the big economic secret that we already know: 20th century institutions aren't fit for 21st century prosperity. The global economy's addicted to what I've termed dumb growth: the myopic, often meaningless "growth" that accrues by destroying the environment, that grows by preying on the vulnerable, that depends on bailouts and austerity packages, and that robs entire societies of the animating passion to do meaningful stuff that matters, and replaces it with contempt for nature, the future, and one another.
That dogma's had its day and today, no nation can prosper, as India's realizing, by slavishly adhering to its tired, toxic tenets. So what happens now? That's the great challenge and each of us answers it every day, with every tiny decision we make.
Are you fighting the future or are you fighting for the future? There are big and small, worse and better, more and less ethical ways to do the latter. But here's what you should know: if you're choosing the former, the odds just changed. Somewhere out there is a radical institutional innovator who's choosing the latter, and has you squarely in his sights.
An Earth worshiping anarchist. How original.
His green approach isn’t a solution either, but he’s right that we need to find a path to some solution, and that tinkering around the tax margins isn’t it.
So you disagree with the article? (You did not include an object in your sentence.) Forgive me if I am slow in understanding you, I have a degree in English. This means I treat ambiguity with caution. Furthermore, I often speak with people who are foreign born. If something is unclear, I reflexively ask for clarification.
Welcome to Free Republic.
>>> Pass the popcorn <<<
Sounds like he already took Van Jones' class.
There's nothing wrong with it either. The marginal cost of oil is only going to go up for the most part so we are going to have to figure out how to power the future. We are not going to see $20/bbl oil again.
The author seems to desire something entirely different, but there is the “kernel of an idea” in here that makes sense. In a day of information access such as the world has never seen, we need to be able to use it to control our government. I am not sure exactly what this would look like or how, but what we have now is clearly “out of control”. Perhaps something as simple as leaking everything ourselves, no “secrets”. Perhaps something more interactive.
It seems to me that the gist of the article is that perhaps our institutions ought to be updated in order to enhance the rights of stakeholders to obtain pertinent information in a timely manner, whether they be stakeholders in government (as all citizens are) or stakeholders in business.
It’s an interesting and perhaps important concept to explore. I’m certain, however, that the greatest impediment to such a thing will most likely be institutional fears of proprietary information falling into the hands of non-stakeholders, even when it is information to which stakeholders probably should have access. A key example is the data that has been revealed by WikiLeaks. A case can be made that this is information that American citizens should have access to so that we can hold our government accountable. On the other hand, it is absolutely not the rest of the world’s business, which makes dissemination of said information under normal means impossible. (Incidentally, this is why, although I oppose the leaking process itself, I also oppose shutting down WikiLeaks and punishing American media for publicizing the content of the leaks. Doing so flips this concept on its head, ensuring that foreign interests are aware of their contents while American citizens are kept in the dark.)
With businesses it’s tricky as well. While stakeholders have a right to company information that is pertinent to the stake that they hold, it is often not desirable for such information to fall into the hands of competitors. When running a business you do not necessarily want your competitors to know how well or how poorly you are doing — that is often an integral part of one’s strategy in a competitive market.
I’m all for people having access to information they should have a right to, in principle. I’m not sure, however, how one pulls that off in a real world of competition where the ability to leverage hidden information is often the key to survival.
It is astonishing how many so-called conservatives are blind to fundamental principal of market economics caused by the depletion of known reserves of commodities and the requirement to replace them with ever harder to find and ever harder to extract deposits. Do folks not understand what this summer's activities in the Gulf of Mexico (remember that) actually mean?
... Here's the big economic secret that we already know: 20th century institutions aren't fit for 21st century prosperity
This squirrel did find a very big nut; he found the Megatrend for the second decade of the present millenium. He just does not know what to do with it.
What is happening with Wikileaks is the same that happened with the Tea Party, etc. Why there is such strong revulsion towards Assange in all government circles is the that broad availability of instant information makes government by bureacrat irrelevant. The guy who receives the cable used to be a powerful man. He had infomation no one else had. His lords and masters in the government are even more powerful. Their interest is not doing the right thing, but control, and with this power, corruption.
The problem that Wikileaks exposes, the problem of the Tea Party is that broad dissemination of information means that information reaches those who really understand its meaning and impact and can really use it. At this point the government gate keeper is merely a hindrance to doing the right thing rather than getting the important work of the country done.
And this isn't just in this country either. How is Australia looking to its people, or England or Sweden right now. The Tea Party may have started here, in the 18th century, but the internet is spreading it around the world faster than the third rate incompetents who think they run the whole place can keep up.
That is what they object to. That is why they are irate. Their heads are exploding because of the cognative dissonance caused by it all.
We are having a screaming argument with the Europeans right now. Who is more bankrupt, the US or the Eurozone, who has the more incompetent central bank, and who has the highets rotational velocity as his country augers in.
Please forgive me. I was writing in a type of shorthand understandable to native English speaking readers. Allow me to clarify, Mr. English Degree.
In the first sentence, the subject, which of course is the author of the article, as well as the linking verb, "to be", are understood. All I wrote was the predicate nominative. Since the verb is not transitive, there is no object.
I would venture to guess that you might be one of a few, if not the only Freeper to read my post and not understand my meaning. So here it is in longhand:
I have analyzed the article, and have found it to be replete with references disparaging our capitalistic system's incompatibility with Gaia, as well as an obvious disdain for the institutions which have raised mankind's standard of living to historically unprecedented heights. I can only conclude that the author is an Earth worshiping anarchist, and a not very original one at that.
I don't know about you, but I think my original post was more pithy.
I don’t know about you, but I think my original post was more pithy.
LOL. Actually I think it was your mix of pith, obvious disregard for the English language, and sarcasm that created the perfect storm for him/her/it.
I hold the English language in the highest regard and use it as it is intended.
There’s a certain element of denial in human nature. You see it in history all the time.
You could also have put it in the vocative.
"Oh, Earth Worshiping Anarchist! Oh, How Original!"
Except that I was identifying the elements of the sentence, not the case of the verb.
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