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David Brin on Openness

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May 15, 2006

David Brin on Openness

Michael Mandel

I like David Brin's view of the world, especially his emphasis on openness. In a new post, he writes:

it is important to recognize the big picture. That our CIVILIZATION prospers - and its opponents tend to shrivel - the more open the world and its varied competitive battlefields become. The more open is the competition, the more it becomes a matter for the accountability arenas - markets, science, democracy... that create beneficial synergies out of competition, instead of reciprocal destruction. Further, the more open the playing field, the more standing individuals have, contributing their billions of eyes to a network that can detect errors and criminality, helping the professionals to do their jobs.

and is just this secular trend that has (I believe) driven most of the anti-modernist forces crazy. They are frantic, right now, across all standard borders of ideology. It is why the Iranian president recently sent a letter to President Bush, pleading that Bush take in the “big picture” and see a wider perspective. Asking him to realize that they are both allies, inherently the same. Co-belligerents against a secular-scientific and “liberal democratic” (his very words) civilization.

In my book Rational Exuberance, I wrote about the "enemies of growth," across the political spectrum. This is the same sort of idea. Some people are in favor of openness, change, and prosperity, and others are opposed.

04:06 PM


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While in the big picture this is true, it is a bit one-sided to ignore the growing frauds, malfeasance, and crime, the increasing impact and problems of modern society. The scale of everything is getting larger, not just the beneficial.

Posted by: Lord at May 16, 2006 01:06 PM

I'll be damned, I read your book. Didn't know that was you.

Posted by: Kevin at May 17, 2006 03:07 AM

Openess is great, but we also need good leadership. We can't keep running up huge deficits and hope for a good future. The blame is both on Congress for all of the expensive programs and pork barrel that we don't need and the administration for getting us into a war that we don't seem to have the will to win. President Bush has a little over 2 years left. He has done some things right so far; but he will be judged, I believe by what he does in Iraq by end of his presidency.

If he can figure out how to end massiive American/British troop involvement in remainder of his term, then I believe that he will be judged well by history. This will be particularly true if USA has no more major terrorist attacks under his watch, particularly since 9/11 occurred too early in his first term for him to get much blame. Getting our troops out of Iraq will also do much to turn around some of the deficit spending.

Posted by: Ira McCown at May 17, 2006 09:17 AM

Kevin...Hope it was Rational Exuberance, and not Irrational Exuberance, a completely different and much more depressing book. you really think the size of crime and fraud is getting big as fast as the economy?

Posted by: Mike Mandel at May 18, 2006 08:58 AM

Yes. The first Fortune 500 company to go bankrupt, Worldcom was something like 11 billion. While accountability strengthens and weakens over time, human nature changes little and new vunerabilities are opened as fast as old ones are closed.

Posted by: Lord at May 18, 2006 01:22 PM

No, crime isn't going up as fast as the economy, or even as fast as the population. Crime isn't going up at all. One glance at crime statistics show that many categories of crime are WAY down over the past 15-20 years. Remember the whole Freakonomics/abortion issue?

Worldcom and Enron were nice juicy stories, but two high profile cases don't statistically constitute an increase in anything except gleeful journalists. There are something like 15 million discrete companies in the U.S. -- funny, I haven't seen any stats about incidence of crimes among them. Increasing, decreasing, I doubt anyone is counting.

Not to mention, things that in many times and places would have been acceptible or overlooked are vigorously prosecuted today. Pretty sure Martha Stuart wasn't the first person in the history of the stock market to engage in some insider trading. Most of the world still can't comprehend our insistance on making bribery illegal -- for them it's as common as water.

Hell, Worldcom and Enron put together times 10 is nothing compared to the great cataclysmic scandals you can read about in those nice lurid histories of stupidity and fraud. The Enron victims who were too STUPID to diversify their 401(k)s are living in fat city compared to the masses of humanity wrecked by 1929 or the South Sea bubble or Tulipmania.

Posted by: Kevin at May 18, 2006 05:52 PM

One of the real advances in economics, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that central banks and regulators have learned how to control the natural tendency of financial markets to go into crisis.

So we can have Enron/Worldcom type debacles, without leading to a broader credit crunch (which might have happened in the past).

Related to that...research shows that the volatility of individual industries has gone up, even as the volatility of the whole economy has gone down. The fallacy of composition rides again

Posted by: Mike Mandel at May 25, 2006 12:05 PM

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