… Cities are sitting on data goldmines. If we can overcome privacy concerns then academics and other nerds could do some really interesting research. The GIS mapping crew can map until the end of time but we could be more ambitious and make some progress on some causal questions.


Mayor Bloomberg, who knows something about the value of information, is leading the charge here. Will Mayors of smaller cities follow the leader? Suppose that the Mayor makes available the electricity bill of every commercial building in the city. Energy efficiency businesses could contact the buildings whose square foot consumption is high to see if these buildings are being “wasteful” or whether the activities taking place there (plasma TV?) just use a lot of power. The “green jobs” weatherizers should not be throwing darts at a map in choosing who to target. They should focus on high electricity consumers but do these consumers know that they are “high”? Equal easy access to information would make my answer “yes”. 

Lists of restaurants that have poisoned people recently will lead to improved sanitation and public health (see Phil Leslie’s work). This is just the tip of the iceberg. Information is a public good and government does have a role here in providing it. I have been told that Milton Friedman opposed this role but I have never understood his view here…