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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 society.

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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