record and current observations. So it should not be surprising that the largest commercial meteorology firm in Europe also happens to be Dutch. By contrast, the weather risk management market and the commercial meteorological sector are relatively much smaller in Great Britain, France, and Germany.
Recent economic research, most of it European, reviewed in my paper “Borders in Cyberspace,” 6 leads to some general conclusions. First, cost recovery is not the best approach to maximizing the economic value of public-sector information to society as a whole, not even from the viewpoint of government finances. Again, for example, the German weather service did not make $1.5 million by selling its historic record because the research firm could not afford it. Second, prosperity effects are maximized when data are sold at marginal cost. Direct government funding and free provision to all are favored with their contribution to national welfare maximized at the point where marginal benefits equal marginal costs. That may sound like economists' rhetoric, but the recent research suggests it is true.
In the area of atmospheric sciences, as I said, there is relatively little commercial meteorology or weather risk management activity in Europe because most European governments do not have open-access policies, resulting in data not being readily, economically, and efficiently available. Because the size of the European and U.S. economies are approximately the same, there is no reason for the European market not to grow to U.S. size with the accompanying revenue generation and job growth. A significant contributor to these disparities is a difference in information policies between the United States and Europe.
Luckily there is a slowly emerging recognition in Europe that open access to government information is critical to the information society, environmental protection, and economic growth. However, the slowly growing trend toward more liberal policies faces opposition from government agencies themselves. For example, the German Parliament recently rejected a modest Freedom of Information Act. The political argument on which it was rejected was that the public has no particular right to know about the internal workings of the government. Great Britain enacted its first Freedom of Information Act in 2000. According to my colleagues in the British press, it has many loopholes, but at least they are moving in a positive direction.
This concept of government commercialization and the idea of the “entrepreneurial bureaucrat”—which I claim is an oxymoron—do not succeed in the face of economic realities and under open competition policies. My paper documents a number of instances of anticompetitive practices by European government agencies.
In sum, the research to date strongly suggests that open government information policies foster significant but not easily quantifiable economic benefits to society. Hence, the necessary impetus for adopting open information policies worldwide may turn on further economic research to better quantify the benefits of open and unrestricted public-sector data. That economic research should prove relevant not only to the question of governmental policies, but also to the larger questions about the value of the so-called “public domain” to society over all.
6See Peter Weiss. 2002. “Borders in Cyberspace: Conflicting Public Sector Information Policies and their Economic Impacts-Summary Report,” at http://weather.gov/sp/Borders_report.pdf.