In an ideal world, knowledge would be free. Information would be exchanged freely. Everyone would have access to anything they needed to know.
As much as we say in our society that money is power, I believe also that knowledge is power. I’ve just begun my coverage of investment banking and derivatives trading, for example, and knowledge is everything — how does one person know how to invest in stock? Knowledge. It’s what an analyst’s job is contingent upon. Prior to this new job, I had little to no knowledge of the stock market and investment banking. I didn’t really understand how derivatives or trading worked. But now that I am getting a grasp, I’m realize how much knowledge is about competitive advantage. The more you know, the better investment decisions you can make (presumably). The more you know, the better decisions you can make for yourself in life.
When you’re part of a university, you have unlimited access to databases — stores and stores of information. After you graduate, this access is closed off. But even then, think of how much you’re paying for a college degree.
Books cost money. The internet is relatively free, but then often you have to pay for subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. In the financial world, it is not particularly easy to gain access to analyst’s notes. Wealthier areas have better access to education. Many students simply don’t have access to good education, and it keeps the poor, well, poor.
Not to say that information should necessarily free. We talk about it in J-school all the time, journalists have the right to be compensated for good work. Same with analysts. It’s all we do all day, find information and make it available. People get paid for lesser things in life. Plus, setting a price on good information makes information competitive. With so much information out there, when people don’t know anymore what to believe, when there is so much risk and uncertainty… rewarding trustworthy information is important. But where do we draw the line?
A journalist is often condoned for publishing “secret” government or corporate information because of “the public’s right to know.” But who decides this “right to know” and how absolute is this right? The answer is: not very. It’s complicated isn’t it? But what is not complicated to understand is this:
Knowledge is just not free.