On May 30th, the SEC released a proposal to implement XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language) (check SEC web-site). In a nutshell, companies are now required to provide financial data in a format that will be easier for users to download into Excel sheets so they could analyze the data.
This is consistent with the SEC's goal of making financial information more transparent and accessible. Interested parties will be commenting, and the expectation is that the proposal will quickly be adopted.
More information is generally better than less. But sometimes we often miss the boat on what it is that we are trying to measure.
This past week, the Democratic nominee was finally decided, but many Americans remember that 40 years ago, it was this week that Robert Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Amongst the many features that were run by the various news services, I was struck by one that listed out the well-known speeches by the Kennedy's--Robert, John F., and Ted. And of all the ones that were highlighted, this one stuck out:
And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife. And the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. (Robert F. Kennedy, University of Kansas, March 18, 1968)
(click here for the entire speech)
Every time we look at numbers, whether they are financial statements or the GNP of our nation, we need to recognize that they are only a measure, and that it is up to the users to make meaning of those measurements.
And for those who are in the business of making the numbers, auditing the numbers, analyzing the numbers, and making big decisions with those numbers, perhaps it would be wise to think back to a certain presidential candidate from 40 years ago whose words still seem to ring true in 2008.