Category Archives: Accounting History

Business and Accounting History of Religious Organizations

Awareness to Accounting and Role of Accounting at Religious Organizations: The Case of Brotherhoods of Seville at the Last Decade of 16th Century

by
Jesus Damian Lopez-Manjon (jdlopman@upo.es), Juan Baños Sanchez-Matamoros (jbasan@upo.es) & Maria Concepcion Alvarez-Dardet Espejo (mcalvesp@upo.es) (all at Universidad Pablo de Olavide)

URL http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pabwpbsad/12.06.htm

Abstract

This work questions if religious organizations with common shared beliefs and sacred objectives, but which members had a different level of awareness to accounting, should show a different behaviour concerning: a) the status of accounting in their internal organisations; and b) the permeability of such organizations to new accounting techniques. To reach our aim, we have analysed the content of 6 rules of brotherhoods located in the city of Seville (Spain), and enacted at the last decade of the 16th century. We have split the brotherhoods depending on its link or not with a guild or professional group. We can conclude that the awareness to accounting of its members and the perception of the belief system are explanations to cover the dissimilar behaviour of the brotherhoods in relation to accounting.

Review by Masayoshi Noguchi

This paper is a new instalment of the most interesting work on accounting of religious orders that is emanating from Seville and was distributed by NEP-HIS on 2012-05-22. As the authors point out, the analysis of accounting function in religious organisations is currently one of the most important topics in accounting history research. It has successfully provided a reinterpretation of the past whether at monasteries or cathedrals. Institution that came to dominate everyday life in Europe during the middle ages.

Brootherhood of the Holy Cross – Seville

The basic research question of the paper is: ‘if religious organizations with common shared beliefs and sacred objectives, but which [sic] members had a diverse level of awareness to accounting, should show a different behaviour concerning: a) the status of accounting in their internal organisations; and b) the permeability of such organizations to new accounting techniques’ (p. 3). Through the analysis, the authors argue how the combination of the ledger control system; the context in which the organisations were placed; and, more importantly, the awareness of the members to accounting techniques, all came together to forge a unique link between professional guilds. This link could play an important role in explaining why accounting in religious organisations adopted specific features (p.9). As a result, they argue, a categorisation of accounting between sacred and profane over simplifies the operational context of religious organisations.

As the analytical object the authors choose the rules of six brotherhoods located in the city of Seville and which established in the second half of the 16th century. An important element of this study is the relation of the brotherhoods with closed craft groups called ‘guilds’. Specifically, the authors argue that the guilds exercised significant influence on accounting procedures prescribed in the rules adopted by some of the brotherhoods. Seville was the most active city in terms of the activities of the guilds, because of the recognized monopoly of the commerce with the Spanish American colonies (p. 4). Also the location within the city played an important part in the story: ‘Traders and craftsmen dedicated to the same profession used to live in the same neighbourhood and, therefore, attend to same parish or convent’ (p. 12). So, guild members would normally belong to the same brotherhood (p.12)

Processions are typical of Holy Week in Seville

The main conclusion of this paper is as follows: the three brotherhoods linked to guilds tended to use more advanced accounting devices and terminology than those not linked. Those most closely connected with specific guilds (i.e. the Santiago and the Buen Viaje), their rules contained more advanced technical terms and accounting jargon than the others. However, the categorization based on the linkage with the guilds could explain difference in the rules concerning the submission of accounts to a body of members for approval.

This study has some limitation, as the authors themselves recognise. Namely, it only analyzed the rules but not the practices of the brotherhoods. So it is not clear the extent to which they actually adopted accounting practices. Indeed, as has been documented by Bátiz-Lazo and others, a common shortcoming of Spanish accounting historiography has been its inference based on text books and rule books. Nothing definite can be said about the technical level of accounting adopted unless actual practices are analysed. It is quite normal that every day practice is carried out in completely different way from that prescribed in rules or regulations. Probably, establishing this link between rules and actual practices in the religious orders explored is the next research task.

Although there are issues, this paper is quite enjoyable to read but as noted, further development is expected.

When Accountants Come to Power

Management From Hell: How Financial Investor Logic Hijacked Firm Governance
By Robert R. Locke (lockerobert3@aol.com)
Paris: Boostzone Editions, 2012
57, ebook, ASIN: B007MOYC56 (RRP €5.50 – £4.42)

Abstract – Corporate governance now is strongly controlled by a «caste» of financial investors that forgets employees and other stakeholders as well as society at large. This control is a major cause of our current crisis and of a growing disbelief in modern capitalism. Why and how did this happen? A renowned American historian of management, Robert R. Locke, develops a well-argued and powerful point of view about the limits of financial investor capitalism and shows that more balanced models should be explored, like family business as well as Geman and/or Japanese corporate governance.

URL – www.boostzone-editions.fr

Review by H. Thomas Johnson
(Professor of Business Administration at Portland State University in Oregon and Distinguished Consulting Professor of Sustainable Business at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington)

In Management From Hell, Robert Locke offers an alternative to the belief that the purpose of a business is to enrich a small elite caste of investor-capitalists who use financial markets and business institutions to trade the future of humanity and non-human life for unlimited personal financial gain. That alternative is the entity view of business in which the purpose of a business is to flourish for the indefinite future and serve the well-being of society as a whole by providing gainful employment to people (employees and suppliers) whose job is to sustainably supply the economic needs of other people (customers). The book begins by examining the impact on large corporations since the late 1970s of “investor capitalism,” a “proprietary” view of business that sees the activities and the capital of a corporation as controlled by its owner-investors and managed by their hired agents, all for the purpose of maximizing its financial returns, to which they – the investor-owners – claim exclusive rights. Locke draws on extensive historical research to show how advocates of investor capitalism used modern academic theories of economics and finance to justify the morally dubious claim that a corporation’s sole concern is to maximize the financial returns to its investor-owners and their delegated agents, without regard for how its activities affect other constituencies such as employees, customers, suppliers and non-human members of Earth’s life-sustaining biosystem.

Robert R. (Bob) Locke

During the 1980s and 1990s top corporate managers, despite their role as the investor-owners’ agents, gained effective control over corporate boards of directors and, implicitly, the power to set their own personal compensation. The spectacular rise in corporate CEO, CFO and other C-level compensation in the last 20 or so years (from salaries, bonuses and stock options) relative to the compensation of lower-level managers, employees and even investor-owners is well known and does not require further documentation here. Locke shows in Management From Hell and at greater length in his co-authored book with J.-C. Spender, Confronting Managerialism (Zedbooks, 2011) that top managers accomplished this change by gradually shifting strategic decision-making power to themselves and away from owners. They achieved that shift largely by promoting the claim that their special post-graduate business education (especially in MBA programs of elite U.S. business schools) put them in exclusive possession of special knowledge and expertise needed to efficiently run today’s complex, global corporations.

As a consequence of successfully marketing their supposedly unique management expertise gained from exclusive access to the nation’s most elite graduate business schools, top managers in the last generation ran large American corporations with impunity. Almost never were they held accountable for the social costs of the management practices they pursued to maximize financial returns for the personal gain of the owners and their “elite” agents. In retrospect it seems clear that many of those practices seriously impaired the vitality and strength of the American economy in the past 30 or so years.

Locke demonstrates persuasively that the damaging consequences of these investor-capitalist management practices were not experienced to the same degree outside America, where management practices were guided by alternative economic philosophies that viewed the purpose of a business in terms of the interests of a much broader constituency than just investor-capitalists and their manager-agents, and not just in terms of maximizing immediate financial returns. He shows how large corporations in Germany and Japan are managed from an “entity” perspective that views success as ensuring the corporation’s long-term survival and sustainability on behalf of all its constituents – employees, customers, suppliers, communities and shareholder/owners — not just owners and their manager-agents. A firm run from an entity as opposed to a proprietary perspective measures success in terms of conditions that contribute to firm sustainability – e.g., average longevity of employees (presumes that returns on investment in humans increase with tenure of employment), employee training, customer satisfaction, reputation, quality of design and delivery, and financial returns (sufficient to flourish and develop over many generations, not maximum short-term profits).

H. Thomas Johnson

Locke cites research findings showing that American firms that are run from a proprietary perspective do report higher financial returns in the short run than do firms run from an entity perspective. In Germany or Japan, however, the entity firms, although earning less spectacular short-term returns, do earn respectable returns, and they live much, much longer. To indicate the long-term consequence of this difference, Locke cites a 2001 book by Richard Fosterand Sarah Kaplan entitled Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Built to Last Underperform the Market–And How to Successfully Transform Them. The authors of this book interpret the increasingly rapid rise and fall (turnover) of large corporations on American financial markets in the 20th century as evidence that the markets weed out less efficient firms by rewarding current financial performance over firm longevity. Although the authors view this outcome favorably, Locke points out that their conclusion begs the question,

“At what cost to individuals, society and Earth’s life-support system do markets achieve such outcomes?”

Indeed, in the post-1970s era of investor capitalism the “leaders” of American corporations (whether top managers working from inside a firm as agents for the investor-owners or take-over operators working for themselves from outside a firm) have pursued the goal of maximum financial returns at increasingly heavy cost to workers, communities, and government. It is not an exaggeration to say that top managers or investors no longer view a business corporation as a community of people (employees, managers, investor-owners, suppliers) serving people (customers and communities) for the economic well-being of society. Instead, they view a business corporation as a commodity with a market value/price set by traders in global financial markets. In other words, a corporation is viewed as a pool of investors’ financial capital seeking maximum returns, if not in one enterprise then by liquidating that enterprise and re-investing the capital in another enterprise ad infinitum.

Because it is assumed that financial markets obey the dogma of financial economics and value corporations according to their discounted current and expected future financial returns, then top management’s job inside a firm is to maximize those returns even if the steps management takes to do so destroy the firm by, say, off-shoring work to lower-wage countries, outsourcing supply purchases to force down prices of non-labor inputs, re-locating headquarters and bank accounts in other countries to reduce taxes and so forth. No different in principle, even if the steps taken are often more extreme, are the steps taken by an outside private equity firm that borrows funds in order to purchase a target corporation, take control and then pursue steps to increase the target firm’s market value by, say, cutting costs via layoffs, revising labor contracts to reduce wages, terminating employee pension contracts and so forth. In addition, private equity take-over firms often use their legal control of the target firm to pay themselves hefty management fees and other forms of compensation. They also borrow against the firm’s assets and draw out cash from its employee pension funds, and then use that cash to pay back the loans they borrowed to purchase the target firm originally. Eventually the private equity firm hopes to cut costs and raise the financial returns of the target firm sufficiently to re-sell it for more than their purchase price, pocket the difference, and walk away much richer. They leave behind a financially-strapped community of unemployed workers, bankrupt suppliers and tax-starved public services. In several chapters Locke enlivens his discussion of these practices with references to specific private equity take-over firms, especially Bain & Co., an example of the industrial-capitalist spirit at its most socially destructive and immoral, particularly its activities conducted in the 1980s and 1990s by Bain’s most famous partner, former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican candidate for U.S. President, Mitt Romney.

This book is for anyone who is concerned about the precarious state of the US economy, including those who are, or plan to be, employed by large corporate businesses. Implicit in the book’s message is the conclusion that investor-capitalist management of “corporations-as-financial-commodities” is an important cause of the growing inequality of wealth and income in the American economy. The huge private fortunes amassed as a consequence of this inequality are being used increasingly to control elections and legislatures in the United States, threatening to replace democratic governance in American society with plutocratic control by a handful of unimaginably rich individuals, almost all of whom view the economy and society through the nineteenth-century liberal ideology of individualism and free markets.

N.B. See also the review by Dominique Turcq (Editor)

The Pure Logic of Accounting

The Pure Logic of Accounting: A Critique of the Fair Value Revolution

Yuri Biondi (yuri.biondi@free.fr)

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:hal:journl:hal-00561894

Abstract

When international accounting standards were renamed to become international financial reporting standards, this seemed to imply that accounting no longer needed to exist, but rather had to be reconsidered as a part of financial communication and advertising. Does traditional accountability no longer matter? Betrayed investors and globalized stakeholders would dissent. A difference of nature continues to exist between fair values disclosed by managers and certified by auditors, and the actual performance generated by the enterprise entity through time, space, and interaction. In a world shaped by complex organizations facing unfolding changes, hazard and limited knowledge, the quest for fundamental principles of accounting is not academic. Accounting principles constitute a primary way that the creation and allocation of business incomes is governed; that is, fairly managed and regulated in the public interest, having respect to “other people interests.” This article adopts a dualistic posture that opposes the accounting conceptual frameworks based on fair value (market basis) and historical cost and revenue (process basis). The fundamental premises about the underlying economics of the enterprise entity are discussed, including the representation of the business and the concepts of asset and liability. References are made to the case of accounting for intangibles, and to the distinction between equities and liabilities. The cost and revenue accounting perspective is then defended in terms of accountability, but also from the informational viewpoint: historical accounting information plays a special role as a lighthouse in the dynamic and strategic setting of the Share Exchange. In particular, two refinements of the historical cost (and revenue) accounting model are suggested. The first one regards the treatment of earned revenues from continuing operations, and the second, the recognition of shareholders’ equity interest computed on the actual funds provided in the past, coupled with the distinction between shareholders’ equity and entity equity.

Review by: Masayoshi Noguchi

This is an interesting piece of work distributed by NEP-HIS on 2011-02-19. Historians commonly use certain indications when they specify objects, organisations or periods to be analysed. Accounting income is one such indicator in accounting, business and economic history. But it is often assumed that firms gained their income through its main business activities. However, this is not always the case. More and more so, firms diversify and generate profitability from non-core activities (such as financial transactions). In the not so distant future, historians will have to face this and therefore, pay greater attention to the accounting assumption made by specific enterprises.

Yuri Biondi

This paper is not an historical study but makes timely comments on fair value accounting as represented by International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), under which an accounting income is assumed to be measured though changes in the market price of net assets. The author’s attempt is in fact a rehabilitation of cost-based accounting. An approach which builds on transaction-based measurements. This paper thus adopts the so-called ‘a dualistic approach’ (p. 3) or one that contrasts results from cost-based and fair value-based approaches. It is certain that papers like this will serve as a useful frame of reference for historical research.

Bondi criticises fair value accounting which, according to him, adopts ‘a market view’:

‘The underlying economics of the business firm is not considered by measuring the entrusted wealth and related (quasi-)rents (i.e., changes of value), but instead by representing its economic and monetary process as an enterprise entity’ (p. 7).

This view assumes that ‘the business entity is framed in a world of market forces capable of addressing and solving its accounting issues’ (p. 7). Bondi adds that ‘[t]he preference for fair value is motivated by this piecemeal valuation which does not consider the whole entity and the overall representation of business capital and income to the firm’ (p. 14). Furthermore that ‘[t]he fair value perspective appears to be at odds with the nature and role of enterprise entities that actually are socio-economic systems involving continuing relationships among interested parties and which raise public interest concerns’ (p. 10).For Bondi there main problem of fair value accounting is that it might lead to ‘inconsistencies'(p. 34).

At the same time, however, the advocates of fair value accounting are not so naïve and do recognise some of its limitations. And to be fair, assume a form of market behaviour much more complex than that Bondi has represented. In a way Bondi oversimplifies assumptions of market behaviour by stating that ‘[f]air value relies on perfect and complete financial markets’ (p. 33).

Bondi insists on the rehabilitation of cost-based accounting by stating that ‘the classic accounting principles fit a broader “accountability” framework that recognises the socio-economic nature of business entities’ (p. 10). From this perspective, ‘[a]ccounting is then understood as a mode of representing, organising and regulating these socio-economic systems and their institutional, organisational, and cognitive patterns and interactions’ (p.10).

However, the criticism to fair value accounting and the support for cost-based accounting do not necessarily mean that the latter comes out as the best choice. Bondi acknowledges that cost-based accounting is in need of reform. Specifically in the areas of intangibles and shareholders’ equity.

Bondi’s ultimate goal is to contribute to the ‘ongoing effort of conceptual clarification by drawing upon theoretical debates that have been going on for at least a century with respect to fair (current) value versus historical cost accounting’ (p. 3). But as of today it is far from clear there has been substantial progress on this debate.

Financial Reporting and Consolidation in the French Interwar Aluminium Industry

Beginnings of financial reporting and premises of consolidation of accounts in the French aluminium industry, 1921-1939

by Didier Bensadon (didier.bensadon@dauphine.fr)
Associate Professor in Financial Accounting, University Paris-Dauphine, DRM

URL http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:hal:journl:halshs-00640503

Abstract
The expansion of groups of companies during the inter-war years is one of the most profound transformations in the structure of French capitalism. Studies in economic history have shown the importance of the subsidiary creation phenomenon in relation to Compagnie Générale d’Electricité, Energie industrielle or Schneider. By contrast, these studies are less interested in the specific arrangements for auditing subsidiaries and managing Company Groups. This article seeks to show how and why the directors of Alais, Froges et Camargue – The largest French company in the aluminum sector- established specific audit measures from the 1920s onwards. This research is essentially based on the company’s archives (annual reports, general organisation chart and memoranda from the general secretariat). Even if the results published in the annual reports should be treated with the utmost caution, in particular owing to the absence of accounting regulation in France in the inter-war years, they remain essential for assessing the important position of subsidiaries and main shareholdings in assets. The scope of the subsidiary creation phenomenon, which is behind the establishment of specific controls, is highlighted. This trend, far from being linear, is strongly influenced by the economic and political situation. The size of the Group’s growth gave rise to two types of requirements for the directors of Alais, Froges et Camargue, namely to audit the subsidiaries and to measure the group’s net cash flow. The response to the need for auditing the subsidiaries was provided by the introduction of financial reporting from 1921. Faced with the increasing number of subsidiaries and main shareholdings held by Alais, Froges et Camargue, this control mechanism was to be strengthened in 1931. Furthermore, the necessity of measuring the Group’s net cash flow led the directors in 1927 to draw up a financial statement whose conceptual foundations were based on those of the consolidation of accounts.

Review by Masayoshi Noguchi

This is an interesting piece of work distributed by NEP-HIS on 2011-11-03. Its analytical method is the traditional archival research and the object of the analysis is ‘the company’s archives (annual reports, general organisation chart and memoranda from the general secretariat)’ of Alais, Froges et Camargue. Citing Bouvier (2005) on Compagnie Générale d’Electricité, Vuillermont (2001) on Energie industrielle and d’Angio (2000) on Schneider, the author assesses the prior research as being less interested in specific arrangement for controlling subsidiaries and managing a group of business enterprises. To rectify the deficiency, Bensadon exemplifies the case of Alais, Froges et Camargue, born out of the merger in 1921 of the Produits Chimiques Alais et Camargue Company (PCAC) and Société électrométallurgique française (SEMF) engaging in energy and electrochemistry related activities along with activities in the production of aluminium. Recognizing the importance of the subsidiary creation phenomenon during the inter-war years for transforming the structure of French capitalism, the research proposes to explore how and why the directors of Alais, Froges et Camargue established a new management structure from the 1920s onwards.

Didier BENSADON

To answer the question of ‘why’, Didier Bensadon argues that ‘[t]he size of the Group’s growth gave rise to two types of requirements for the directors…namely to audit the subsidiaries and to measure the group’s net cash flow’, preceding the legal framework under which ‘corporate confidentiality’ to protect the business interest of private enterprises was still stressed, the same pattern more or less recognized in the experience of Great Britain during the period from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries (see for example Dick Edward’s A History of Financial Accounting).

For the ‘how’ question, the Bensandon forwards the idea that ‘the necessity of measuring the Group’s net cash flow led the directors in 1927 to draw up a financial statement whose conceptual foundations were based on those of the consolidation of accounts’. Specifically, the author’s indication is intriguing that a prototype of consolidated statement of cash flows came out spontaneously as a management tool to control the group’s financial strategies, rather than the means for external reporting. In fact, it has been pointed out, from the viewpoint of group formation of businesses, that greater importance may be attached to the consolidated statement of cash flows rather than to the balance sheet or income statement (for example see Heath, 1978; Heath and Rosenfield, 1979). Bensadon’s research on the Alais, Froges et Camargue helps to support the case, though unclear to what extent the findings would be generalized in French industrial society during the interwar period. Probably, his future research agenda will include the issue of how the argument for preceding origination of consolidated cash flow statement could be applied to other companies.

Bensadon’s analysis on the attributes of subsidiaries and the relationships with the required frequency of reporting will provide a useful guide for future research. However, he arrives at important conclusions in some places but without showing sufficient evidence. Sorting out of associated companies classified in ‘shareholdings’ category which became the subject of ‘close monitoring’ in relation to his Table 4 is a typical case. The reference system is also coarse.

In contrast, there is persuasive power in the author’s analysis on the shareholdings of Alais, Froges et Camargue for its subsidiary network created in accordance with the business strategy of the parent company making heavy investments on several strategic sectors, i.e. energy supply and chemical production. The archives utilized also vastly extends covering the company’s articles of incorporation, the notice of meetings and the minutes of ordinary and extraordinary general meetings, balance sheets and profit and loss accounts, minutes of board meetings, copies of large contracts, the complete set of annual reports and various other reports (especially those affecting financial programmes) for the subsidiaries. Effectively utilizing these materials, this piece of work has attained its objective.

References

Edwards J R (1989) A History of Financial Accounting, London: Routledge.

Heath L C (1978) Financial Reporting and the Evaluation of Solvency, Accounting Research Monograph No.3, AICPA.

Heath L C and Rosenfield P (1979) Solvency: Forgotten Half of Financial Reporting, Journal of Accountancy, January, pp.48-54.

Conceptual Foundations of the Balanced Scorecard

By Robert S. Kaplan (Harvard Business School, Accounting and Management Unit)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:hbs:wpaper:10-074&r=his

David Norton and I introduced the Balanced Scorecard in a 1992 Harvard Business Review article (Kaplan & Norton, 1992). The article was based on a multi-company research project to study performance measurement in companies whose intangible assets played a central role in value creation (Nolan Norton Institute, 1991). Norton and I believed that if companies were to improve the management of their intangible assets, they had to integrate the measurement of intangible assets into their management systems. After publication of the 1992 HBR article, several companies quickly adopted the Balanced Scorecard giving us deeper and broader insights into its power and potential. During the next 15 years, as it was adopted by thousands of private, public, and nonprofit enterprises around the world, we extended and broadened the concept into a management tool for describing, communicating and implementing strategy. This paper describes the roots and motivation for the original Balanced Scorecard article as well as the subsequent innovations that connected it to a larger management literature.

It seems an important number of key academics whose ideas helped to shape business and management thought at the end of the 20th century are coming close to retirement age. “Luminaries” such as Russell Ackoff, Peter Drucker and Alfred Chandler were productive very much until they passed away. We celebrated their life through special editions and “life’s work” edited books. But as the above paper suggests, it seem some are happy to comment on their own work (see also a auto-bio from Eugene Fama at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1553244). This self assessment is interesting as there is really no tradition in mainstream studies in business and management, to devote a space for reflection on the different aspects of evolution of business, business practice, management and management thought.  This is surprising given that for some authoritative sources, more history in the teaching of business and management is the way forward (see http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14493183).