November 6, 2000—Tales
of Halloweens Past
Sorry. But it wasn't much of a Halloween, even at the super
celebrations in New York, San Francisco, etc. Not that many kids on the
sidewalk. The houses were only half-decorated, and the candy-giving was
dispirited. Even the big parades had too many suits in attendance, not
enough real revellers. Melville said, "Life is a picnic en costume." No
picnic; no costume. Maybe the party is over in 2000: certainly it has been a
tough month for the stock market, although we have not yet revisited 1929.
Even the SEC had a lousy Halloween. It has put out a misbegotten Regulation
FD for corporations to make sure corporate trivia is revealed on an
even-handed basis, with the view that analysts and select investors should
not get a preview of good or bad company results before the rest of us. This
regulation will not guarantee much of anything, other than permanent
workfare for the burgeoning population of attorneys in our over-lawyered
Thirty years ago or so, the SEC imposed a host of disclosure requirements
that did make a difference, on Halloween Day no less. Lines of business
reporting, management analyses, and discussions were added to both
regulatory and shareholder annual reports. And this truly told all of us
something new about companies. That was when the SEC paid more attention to
substance, less to bureaucratic process. Today, if it were more focused, it
would close out all the dirty accounting tricks in merger accounting. But it
is a part of a Federal government more devoted to means than ends. Hence,
it pounces on selective disclosure.
Getting the issues wrong is what we are talking about here. This very much
relates to this week's Dictum--"Seven Not Eleven." You have to focus on a
few things and make sure they are the right things--in government, business,
education, life itself. Otherwise, organizations and society itself become
complex, mediocre, even regressive.
Well, lately the SEC has gotten on top of the wrong things, and nobody has
time to do Halloween and other celebrations with gusto.
P.S. The election surprise. Rural Gore gets the urban states. Urban Bush
takes the countryside. Very old politics.
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