Last year’s corporate scandals reminded us that the true ambit of the business world’s impropriety is often broader than even the most cynical among us would like to believe. At the height of last summer’s public outcry against corporations, the media revealed, among other crimes, insider trading, cooked books and offshore tax shelters. Although last year’s intense media spotlight has largely disappeared, questionable practices continue – even here at the University.

Once a month, the University’s Institute for Social Research releases the Consumer Confidence Index, which the U.S. government uses as an official economic indicator. Economists use the index in order to improve their sense of the current economic mood and to predict future trends.

The University releases the information to paying subscribers – whose subscriptions help fund the research – two hours before it officially releases the information to the public. Because the survey contains one of the nation’s most important economic indicators, releasing survey information in this manner is analogous to abetting insider trading. Those privy to the information are allowed a full two hours to use the data before the rest of the public sees it.

While this may seem like a trivial amount of time, the consumer confidence number is of such importance to the stock market that a skilled market player could in only a few minutes make a significant amount of money.

By selling this information to the highest bidder, the University is acting contrary to its academic and social goals as a top research institution. This data should not be exclusively released to those few with the means to pay for their tools.

One of the fundamental tenets of free and fair is that all players have access to the same amount of information. Withholding important crucial from the public and providing it to only the privileged few not only undermines the U.S. government’s economic mission, but it is reminiscent of the practices of wealthy executives who kept information about their companies’ performance from their employees while selling millions of dollars worth of stock.

Proponents of the ISR’s release methods claim that without the funding it receives from private subscribers, the ISR could not afford to conduct the survey. While the difficulty of securing funding for research projects should be considered, the ISR and the University should explore other avenues to secure funding, such as providing more in-depth levels of analysis or expanded information databases to subscribers.

The Consumer Confidence index that the University releases are one of the most important pieces of data regarding the U.S. economy. While gathering such data is expensive, the University is not a business with the goal of providing information to paying customers. It is an institution with the altruistic mission of providing for the public good and advancing goals of social science research.

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