Knowledge and Power
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“Knowledge is Power” goes the old German adage. But power,
as any schoolboy knows, always has negative and positive sides to it. Information
exhibits the same duality : properly provided, it is a positive power of
unequalled strength. Improperly disseminated and presented, it is nothing
short of destructive. The management of the structure, content, provision
and dissemination of information is, therefore, of paramount importance
to a nation, especially if it is in its infancy (as an independent state).
Information has four dimensions and five axes of dissemination,
some vertical and some horizontal.
The four dimensions are :
In the economic realm, there are five important axes
of dissemination :
Structure – information can come in various
physical forms and poured into different kinds of vessels and carriers.
It can be continuous or segmented, cyclical (periodic) or punctuated, repetitive
or new, etc. The structure often determines what of the information (if
at all) will be remembered and how. It encompasses not only the mode of
presentation, but also the modules and the rules of interaction between
them (the hermeneutic principles, the rules of structural interpretation,
which is the result of spatial, syntactic and grammatical conjunction).
Content – This incorporates both ontological
and epistemological elements. In other words : both “hard” data, which
should, in principle, be verifiable through the employment of objective,
scientific, methods – and “soft” data, the interpretation offered with
the hard data. The soft data is a derivative of a “message”, in the broader
sense of the term. A message comprises both world-view (theory) and an
action and direction-inducing element.
Provision – The intentional input of structured
content into information channels. The timing of this action, the quantities
of data fed into the channels, their qualities – all are part of the equation
Dissemination – More commonly known as media
or information channels. The channels which bridge between the information
providers and the information consumers. Some channels are merely technical
and then the relevant things to discuss would be technical : bandwidth,
noise to signal ratios and the like. Other channels are metaphorical and
then the relevant determinants would be their effectiveness in conveying
content to targeted consumers.
Positive information is characterized by four qualities :
From Government to the Market – the Market
here being the “Hidden Hand”, the mechanism which allocates resources in
adherence to market signals (for instance, in accordance with prices).
The Government intervenes to correct market failures, or to influence the
allocation of resources in favour or against the interests of a defined
group of people. The more transparent and accountable the actions of the
Government, the less distortion in the allocation of resources and the
less resulting inefficiency. The Government should declare its intentions
and actions in advance whenever possible, then it should act through public,
open tenders, report often to regulatory and legislative bodies and to
the public and so on. The more information provided by this major economic
player (the most dominant in most countries) – the more smoothly and efficaciously
the Market will operate. The converse, unfortunately, is also true. The
less open the government, the more latent its intents, the more shadowy
its operations – the more cumbersome the bureaucracy, the less functioning
From Government to the Firms – The same principles
that apply to the desirable interaction between Government and Market,
apply here. The Government should disseminate information to firms in its
territory (and out of it) accurately, equitably and speedily. Any delay
or distortion in the information, or preference of one recipient over another
– will thwart the efficient allocation of economic resources.
From Government to the World – The “World”
here being multilateral institutions, foreign governments, foreign investors,
foreign competitors and the economic players in general providing that
they are outside the territory of the information disseminating Government.
Again, any delay, or abstention in the dissemination of information as
well as its distortion (disinformation and misinformation) will result
in economic outcomes worse that could have been achieved by a free, prompt,
precise and equitable (=equally available) dissemination of said information.
This is true even where commercial secrets are involved ! It has been proven
time and again that when commercial information is kept secret – the firm
(or Government) that keeps it hidden is HARMED. The most famous examples
are Apple (which kept its operating system a well-guarded secret) and IBM
(which did not), Microsoft (which kept its operating system open to developers
of software) and other software companies (which did not). Recently, Netscape
has decided to provide its source code (the most important commercial secret
of any software company) free of charge to application developers. Synergy
based on openness seemed to have won over old habits. A free, unhampered,
unbiased flow of information is a major point of attraction to foreign
investors and a brawny point with the likes of the IMF and the World Bank.
The former, for instance, lends money more easily to countries, which maintain
a reasonably reliable outflow of national statistics.
From Firms to the World – The virtues of corporate
transparency and of the application of the properly revealing International
Accounting Standards (IAS, GAAP, or others) need no evidencing. Today,
it is virtually impossible to raise money, to export, to import, to form
joint ventures, to obtain credits, or to otherwise collaborate internationally
without the existence of full, unmitigated disclosure. The modern firm
(if it wishes to interact globally) must open itself up completely and
provide timely, full and accurate information to all. This is a legal must
for public and listed firms the world over (though standards vary). Transparent
accounting practices, clear ownership structure, available track record
and historical performance records – are sine qua non in today’s financing
From Firms to Firms – This is really a subset
of the previous axis of dissemination. Its distinction is that while the
former is concerned with multilateral, international interactions – this
axis is more inwardly oriented and deals with the goings-on between firms
in the same territory. Here, the desirability of full disclosure is even
stronger. A firm that fails to provide information about itself to firms
on its turf, will likely fall prey to vicious rumours and informative manipulations
by its competitors.
There is no difference in the application of these rules
to information and to interpretation (which is really information that
relates to other information instead of relating to the World). Both categories
can be formal and informal. Formal information is information that designates
itself as such (carries a sign : “I am information”). It includes official
publications by various bodies (accountants, corporations, The Bureau of
Statistics, news bulletins, all the media, the Internet, various databases,
whether in digitized format or in hard copy).
Transparency – Knowing the sources of the information,
the methods by which it was obtained, the confirmation that none of it
was unnecessarily suppressed (some would argue that there is no “necessary
suppression”) – constitutes the main edifice of transparency. The datum
or information can be true, but if it is not perceived to be transparent
– it will not be considered reliable. Think about an anonymous (=non-transparent)
letter versus a signed letter – the latter will be more readily relied
upon (subject to the reliability of the author, of course).
Reliability – is the direct result of transparency.
Acquaintance with the source of information (including its history) and
with the methods of its provision and dissemination will determine the
level of reliability that we will attach to it. How balanced is it ? Is
the source prejudiced or in any way an interested, biased, party? Was the
information “force-fed” by the Government, was the media coerced to publish
it by a major advertiser, was the journalist arrested after the publication
? The circumstances surrounding the datum are as important as its content.
The context of a piece of information is of no less consequence that the
information contained in it. Above all, to be judged reliable, the information
must “reflect” reality. I mean reflection not in the basic sense : a one
to one mapping of the reflected. I intend it more as a resonance, a vibration
in tune with the piece of the real world that it relates to. People say
: “This sounds true” and the word “sounds” should be emphasized.
Comprehensiveness – Information will not be
considered transparent, nor will it be judged reliable if it is partial.
It must incorporate all the aspects of the world to which it relates, or
else state explicitly what has been omitted and why (which is tantamount
to including it, in the first place). A bit of information is embedded
in a context and constantly interacts with it. Additionally, its various
modules and content elements consistently and constantly interact with
each other. A missing part implies ignorance of interactions and epiphenomena,
which might crucially alter the interpretation of the information. Partiality
renders information valueless. Needless to say, that I am talking about
RELEVANT parts of the information. There are many other segments of it,
which are omitted because their influence is negligible (the idealization
process), or because it is so great that they are common knowledge.
Organization – This, arguably, is the most
important aspect of information. It is what makes information comprehensible.
It includes the spatial and temporal (historic) context of the information,
its interactions with its context, its inner interactions, as we described
earlier, its structure, the rules of decision (grammar and syntax) and
the rules of interpretation (semantics, etc.) to be applied. A worldview
is provided, a theory into which the information fits. Embedded in this
theory, it allows for predictions to be made in order to falsify the theory
(or to prove it). Information cannot be understood in the absence of such
a worldview. Such a worldview can be scientific, or religious – but it
can also be ideological (Capitalism, Socialism), or related to an image
which an entity wishes to project. An image is a theory about a person
or a group of people. It is both supported by information – and supports
it. It is a shorthand version of all the pertinent data, a stereotype in
Informal information is information, which is not permanently
captured or is captured without the intention of generating formal information
(=without the pretence : “I am information”). Any verbal communication
belongs here (rumours, gossip, general knowledge, background dormant data,
The modern world is glutted by information, formal and
informal, partial and comprehensive, out of context and with interpretation.
There are no conceptual, mental, or philosophically rigorous distinctions
today between information and what it denotes or stands for. Actors are
often mistaken for their roles, wars are fought on television, fictitious
TV celebrities become real. That which has no information presence might
as well have no real life existence. An entity – person, group of people,
a nation – which does not engage in structuring content, providing and
disseminating it – actively engages, therefore, in its own, slow, disappearance.