This is not to say that government should try to make these massive changes on its own. But in active collaboration with all stakeholders and interested parties — including corporate executives, institutional investors, banks, statisticians, and setters of accounting standards — agencies like the BEA must take the lead in defining and implementing the standards that would grant intangible assets the status they deserve. In the process, they would return some credibility to both U.S. economic data and, eventually, to the financial statements of U.S. corporations.
A first step in that direction may have just taken place. In June 2008, the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy; the Committee on National Statistics; and the BEA convened a public meeting to discuss intangibles. Its agenda included what government statistical agencies are doing to gather data on intangibles and what government’s role should be in supporting markets and promoting investment in intangibles. With the right people and organizations in attendance and a rallying of political and institutional will, the gathering may have breathed new life into this languishing but critically important issue.
Reprint No. 08302
Denise Caruso is the executive director and chair of the Hybrid Vigor Institute, which supports cross-disciplinary inquiry and collaboration on science, technology, and social issues. She is the author of Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet (Hybrid Vigor Press, 2006).