10 March 2007

A Cheer for Bloomberg News

Does information really "want to be free"? Of course not. A piece of information isn't a wanting or doing sort of creature.

Anthropomorphism aside, is there some natural tendency in the world, now that the world has an internet (and wireless access yet!) toward the ever-wider spread of what had been secret?

There is a historical tendency here, but it isn't inherent in technology. The tendency is one that Adam Smith would have understood quite well. If there is a demand for information (a demand in the market sense, a demand that will express itself in the payment of money), then someone will seek to supply it. The greater that demand, supply being constant, the greater the price. If we also assume constant costs, then the increase in price will make for a greater profit.

As you can see, there are a lot of assumptions involved in that reasoning. Still, private and corporate espionage both long predated the internet. What information "wants" is to be bought and sold. Free in the sense of "liberated," not "free" in the sense of "gifted."

But then there are the structures of power. And they haven't changed all that much of late. I doubt I'll get into any conspiracy theorists' hall of fame if I make the general observation that governments like to keep secrets, and they like to enable their private sector cronies to keep secrets as well. These are the would-be prisons whence information has to be liberated in order to be (freely) bought and sold.

These thoughts didn't drop down into my head out of the blue. They've come to me now because of the ongoing Northwest Airlines bankruptcy proceedings. Bloomberg News and its counsels, to their undying credit, are fighting the good fight here, trying to obtain and make public information about who owns what claims against the company in the context of that reorganization.

The issue is whether certain Wall Street speculators can use court orders -- and, thus, governmental power -- to keep certain secrets "under seal" that have a good deal of relevance to Main Street USA -- to the future of an important company within a very high-visibility and troubled industry. A ruling Friday went the way Bloomberg News wanted. It now appears that the speculators will have to disclose.

We should mark this as a small victory for the liberation of data. Information doesn't want anything, but those of us who are wanting beings should want this sort of information to be available.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.