Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Shareholder Democracy

Richard says:
One of the preconditions for corporate governance is transparency, and systems engineering can certainly do something about this. But transparency is not enough. We need to engineer appropriate control mechanisms, so that transparent information can be properly acted upon in the interests of the real stakeholders.

Information is never passive - there is always some reason why it is gathered, and some intention driving its gathering and presentation.

As I have suggested elsewhere, the hidden issue we are all wrestling with is "How do we measure wealth?". It is quite clear that current economic measures make very little sense, since they fail to distinguish between wealth and money. If locked-up wealth is freed and becomes available for monetary purposes, this increases measurable GDP, but it doesn't necessarily mean there has been any real increase in wealth (except for those who take a cut whenever a transfer of money takes place - e.g. bankers, governments, estate agents, lawyers).

By some measures, real wages for typical US citizens have been stagnant or in decline since the mid-1970s. They have only been able to maintain their standard of living (if at all) by going into debt. By other measures, the US standard of living has been rising since that time. These cannot both be true, so something is very fishy in the choice of measurement being made by different parties.

The message from the behaviour of Rupert Murdoch is that he wants the freedom to intercept wealth any way he wants, without any control by his public shareholders.

There is no reason why system engineering cannot be used to aggregate fundamental data according to several different perspectives. Once the data is captured and the quality of that data is understood, it can be aggregated to obtain whatever views you wish, depending on the perspectives of different stakeholders. As long as the rules of aggregation are understood by the viewer, the "bias" can be taken into account.

"Fundamentalists" of various persuasions will try to force a particular "objectivity" on the measurements and claim that all other perspectives are wrong. The rest of us do not have to believe this, unless the fundamentalists can overwhelm us by superior power, whether that be by dominating communications channels, or by the application of violence, or both.

POSIWID applies here, as it does everywhere else.