AGB2009: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

This part of the AGB2009 series (see the presentation)


Look around: you will see an increasing role in our complex society for various forms of “oversight”, “audit”, “watchdog”, “rating” entities.

Because a simple central oversight is not enough: it has to be divided by industry, market, interest.

I re-read recently a book about the role played by doctors of ailing political leaders, to build a parallel with the current states of affairs.

With an added twist: a new article on medical diagnosis, stating: “Some 10 to 15 percent of all patients either suffer from a delay in making the correct diagnosis or die before the correct diagnosis is done”.


The first issue is certainly related to authority and initiation.

If, by consensus, established authorities set up a watchdog, the line of authority is clearly inherited from the source, and the initiation contains also the framework for the potential evolution (or dissolution) of the new watchdog.

But what about some of the pre- and post-Internet self-appointed watchdogs?

The rating industry: by building credibility on their self-referential networking with decision makers in the financial industry, they built an oligopoly on deciding the investment-worthiness of companies and states.

And Internet created another form of watchdogs- websites assigning ratings on anything, with a potential impact on financial markets and political choices based just on the value of their own visibility.

Over the last decade, more and more decisions are based on the pre-digested analysis provided by automated systems, and not only in the financial industry.

When the use of these ratings is not mediated by the experience, but feeds directly market and political decisions, the results are visible to everybody.

And being based on countries outside the jurisdiction of the impacted markets, all the private watchdogs have de facto total impunity.

Beside the setting up, the other issue is the lack of oversight. Or, as the title says: who is watching over these watchdogs and their potential conflicts of interest?

Who controls the quality of their research? Should a global jurisdiction provided for their regulation?

Are really the self-appointed and over-powering watchdogs the issue, or the misuse of the information that they provide?


A watchdog is, in the end, presenting a diagnosis or monitoring a potential patient.

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, getting back to the basics could be a good start.

Hugh L’Etang, “The Pathology of Leadership”, 1969 William Heinemann Medical Books Ltd, pagg. 206-216
Generals, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Dictators, and the side-effects of their relationships with their own health
Jerome Groopman, “Diagnosis: What Doctors Are Missing”, Volume LVI, Number 17 The New York Review of Books
reviewing two books on diagnosis is reason enough to write an essay that is more about decision-making than most books on… decision making

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