Thursday, December 18, 2008

Information is power

Information is power, and power belongs in the hands of citizens. Not companies. Citizens.

We allow companies to withhold information -- keep secrets -- out of some sort of notion that it's somehow a good thing, that secrets help companies make more money, help the economy operate more efficiently, or are simply a fundamental right that corporations have.

None of this is true.

Imagine how the world would be different if large, billion-dollar-plus companies were subject to a few simple rules like:

  • Senior management meetings should be open to the public, via webcast

  • A company's financial books are public documents, that anyone may examine
  • Companies reveal who their major suppliers are.

  • All large companies provide annual reports that include a plain-English explanation of where their money comes from, where it goes, and where their funds are at risk.

What would Enron's "plain English" explanation of their income stream would have sounded like? What would Citi's boardroom discussions on the risks of collaterized debt obligations have sounded like if those discussions were publicly broadcast? If Bernie Madoff's books were, well, an open book, would we all be $50 billion deeper in the hole? If Wal-Mart, Nike and the Gap revealed their suppliers, would there be fewer sweatshops in the world?

If large, billion-dollar companies were obliged to be less secretive, we all would be much better off.

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