Sunday, March 13, 2011

Asset-level Disclosure Makes Markets Work Better at Low Cost

In a recent column in the NY Times, Richard Thaler puts to rest the idea that the market would in any way, shape or form not be up to the task of transforming all the data in the 'Mother of all Databases' into useful information.

He looks at what market participants do with non-financial databases where there are limited financial rewards from transforming the data into information.  Now, just imagine what they would do with access to all the financial data in the 'Mother of all Databases' where there are potentially huge financial rewards from transforming the data to information!
GOVERNMENTS have learned a cheap new way to improve people’s lives. Here is the basic recipe: 
Take data that you and I have already paid a government agency to collect, and post it online in a way that computer programmers can easily use. Then wait a few months. Voilà! 
The private sector gets busy, creating Web sites and smartphone apps that reformat the information in ways that are helpful to consumers, workers and companies. 
... Another example involves weather data produced by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The forecasts you find on the Weather Channel, or on the evening news or online, use the agency’s information. 
Again, the government produces and releases raw data, and the private sector transforms it into something useful for the public. 
... Now the administration is pushing to use this concept as a tool for regulation, and as a method of avoiding more heavy-handed rule making. The idea is that making things more transparent can immediately turn consumers into better shoppers and make markets work better. 
One might think that such an initiative would receive nearly universal support — after all, who could be against openness and transparency? But it turns out that some people are. 
Two cases... 
First, the Department of Transportation is considering a new rule requiring airlines to make all of their prices public and immediately available online. The postings would include both ticket prices and the fees for “extras” like baggage, movies, food and beverages. The data would then be accessible to travel Web sites, and thus to all shoppers. 
The airlines would retain the right to decide how and where to sell their products and services. But many of them are insisting that they should be able to decide where and how to display these extra fees.
Electronic disclosure of all fees can make it much easier for consumers to figure out what a trip really costs, and thus make markets more efficient, without requiring new rules and regulations.   [every industry that thinks it benefits from a lack of transparency by being able to sell their products at a higher price will be like the airlines and object to openness and transparency]
Another initiative has been proposed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President George W. Bush signed legislation mandating an online database of reported safety issues in products, at  
... If we want to reduce the cost of government regulation, this is exactly the kind of effort we should be applauding and expanding. Compared with the tiny costs [$3 million per year], the benefits of this program could be enormous. 
Thirteen years ago, two of my dear friends ... were called at work ... and told that their 18-month-old son had died in a crib accident. Imagine their anguish when they later learned that other children had died in this model of crib, and that still others had died in cribs with similar design. ... If this program could reduce that number even slightly, the cost would seem amply justified. 
Moving the government into the 21st century should be applauded. [see here

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