Saturday, February 23, 2008

Using transparency to regulate business

For a while I've regarded the use of transparency as a better way to regulate than brute force of law. In an interesting piece on lateral thinking in economics Ross Gittins, discusses the work of Dr Guren of Lateral Economics.

Many of the ideas proposed by Dr. Guren are not really new or innovative, if you've been following economics and the open movement. Taxing "bads" as opposed to "goods" are known as Pigovian Taxes. What I did find interesting was Dr. Guren's idea around improving health & safety in the workplace by this method:

Most workers care about workplace safety, but typically lack information about it when applying for a job. Yet the workers' compensation premiums paid by firms provide a good proxy for their past occupational health and safety performance.

We should publish them, Dr Gruen says, and require that existing and prospective employees are provided with information on how they compare with economy-wide and industry-wide average performance.

I already think that salaries should be published by each company. Publishing the salaries and benefits across the organisation, will promote competition between companies for labour. One of the key problems with the labour market has moved beyond flexibility, to information asymmetry. A real market can't exist with this asymmetry whether a market is flexible or not.

But the idea of publishing H&S premiums has got me wondering what other internal information should be published to make companies more transparent and so reduce the amount of regulation and enforcement action needed in the economy?

Off the top of my head I can think of:

  • Number of harassment claims filed
  • Amount of energy KWh used by the company
The more simple and available the information the easier it is to counter arguments about cost and burden. The use of open information would have a profound effect on the economy and the regulation of business.

Tags: Open Source, Policy