July 29, 2011Doug Hadden
Carlos Lipari, FreeBalance Washington
(editors note: like many businesses, FreeBalance leverages economic data to better understand what works in public financial management.)
Google and Facebook are outstanding examples of how companies providing “free” services can change society. Thanks to them, access to information and networking has become easier than ever.
Could we imagine what would Google be like if it had decided to attempt any expansion by billing internet users for its current services? Or how successful Facebook would be if it had chosen to ask its members for membership fees? We all know that free access was vital to the success of these two outstanding companies.
International organizations such as the IMF, OECD or the World Bank conduct research. This research is mostly focused on social, economic and development indicators and is regularly released on their official websites.
Even though they have at their disposal multi-million dollar budgets financed directly or indirectly financed by tax payers all over the world (the IMF alone expects to spend next year 985 million dollars in administrative costs), their reports are often sold, limiting access from the general population, businesses and institutions.
As it is known, downloading data from the internet has virtually no cost to suppliers (the organizations). Even so, these international organizations chose to impose an “extra tax” on society by having reports being sold at prices that inhibit many all over the world from reading them.
Why is research, subsidized in the first place by our own taxpayers’ money, being provided virtually exclusively to a restricted number of individuals and institutions?
Should we not have these international organizations and agencies giving an example to society of how important it is to avoid information asymmetry? How can we teach economics at business schools where the assumption is accessibility to effective data, when institutions such as the IMF or the OECD are the first ones failing to comply?
Free access would not substantially increase the financial burden on these institutions. Yet this would improve global awareness, increase public discussion, and allow new ideas to be produced and innovation to take place.
(Editors note: a loss of calculable but minimal revenue in return for incalculable economic benefits as described by Tim O’Reilly’s concept of government as platform.)
Instead of a few thousand readers (that bottom line provide a marginal contribution to the overall budget of these public organizations), these institutions could benefit society by allowing their reports to be red by millions of people all over the world. After all, information is power and we, taxpayers, primary sponsors of these international organizations, should be entitled to access. And multiply the economic potential of this information.
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