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In this essay we have been asked to discuss whether or not we agree with John Watts when he says, Accounting is probably more powerful today than it has ever been. To answer this question we must consider accounting s power throughout history and compare that to its significance today. We shall start our answer by giving a brief outline of what accounting actually is then discussing its power throughout history.
One of the most debatable concepts in accounting is what exactly accounting is. In Accounting Theory by W.A. Paton he states that, It is always difficult to frame a useful definition for a broad subject. However, I shall attempt a definition of accounting. To me it seems that accounting can be diagnosed as helping to maintain and create financial statements, which will provide a true and fair view of the entity. From simple bookkeeping to far more complex managerial statements, anything to do with any organisation has a need for accounting.
It is debatable when accounting was first employed by humanity. Accounting has always been powerful, indeed as far back as ancient Egypt. Papyrus scrolls found in the tomb of Chnemhotep describe how, Minute care is not only taken in the case of large amounts, but even the smallest quantities of corn or dates are conscientiously entered. Therefore this shows the power of accounting in times as far back as 3,500B.C. onwards. Also in an essay by B.S.Yamey we are told that accounting began with the birth of writing. Infact, excavations have revealed a previously unknown kingdom ca. 2,400BC, named Ebla, in northern Syria. In 1974-75 the archives were uncovered, with many cuneiform tablets, several being described as bookkeeping records. In another essay by B.S.Yamey it states, The whole purpose of ancient accounting was to keep accurate records of acquisitions and outgoings, in money and kind, and to expose any losses due to dishonesty and negligence.
This would be powerful since if you were accused of being dishonest you would probably have been severely punished, even though the peasants who were the majority had no use of accountancy. Even if they could understand the concepts of accountancy the chances of any of them being literate would have been slim. It would only have been people with land and title that needed to keep account of acquisitions and outgoings as well as expose any dishonesty. Therefore since accountancy would only have affected the richer members of society its power in the Middle Ages cannot be said to be more powerful that it is at present. It is unknown what these accounts contained but I would imagine that it would be basic accounts of the quantity of what materials were available to them or maybe how mush each citizen owed in taxes. There were maybe ancient markets where people traded goods and so maybe simple bookkeeping was introduced to organise their small businesses . It is hard to gauge the power of accounting in these times since we know very little of their societies and whether they had currency or not would also play a vital role in measuring the power of accounting in these times. Nevertheless it could be considered that the significance of accounting in such historic periods would probably not have had a great effect on the average citizens. However, it may well have been powerful to the richer members of society who had property to trade etc.
As time passed from the origins of accounting closer to the present day there are more and more records of accounts. During medieval times it became clearer that accountancy was more prominent. Benedetto Cotrugli first outlined double entry bookkeeping in his volume Of Trading and the Perfect Trader. However the man widely accredited with the advancement of double entry bookkeeping was an Italian monk named Luca Pacioli. He lived during the Renaissance, when so many of the arts and sciences were in a transitory stage. Among his many works was the volume known as the, Summa . In this he outlined the principles of double entry bookkeeping with a view to more efficient conduct of business. As a demonstration of how powerful Pacioli s work was considered to be, the Duke of Urbino, ordered it to be printed. This is no small undertaking as Guttenburg had only invented the metal type printing press 25 years earlier.
This transformed accounting from being a little known concept into an art or science at the forefront of European thought. With the spread of accounting its power must have also increased since it was being more widely used. This would have gradually become more and more a considerable part of daily life making it more significant to everybody and not just the most fortunate in society.
The next stage in history where accountancy leapt forward was with the formation of parliament and the onslaught of the industrial revolution. In an essay by Paul Grady he wrote, I am certain that accounting, even though elementary in method, served useful purposes in the governmental and economic undertakings through all the millenniums encompassed by the identifiable civilisations. However, an art or science cannot become a social force until the economic and governmental conditions permit an independent professional development, which may then use its talents in making a contribution to the public welfare. These favourable conditions for the field of accounting did not arise until after the establishment of responsible representative government and an industrialised economy.
During this period in time England was in the middle of a prosperous time. it was the leading producer of coal, iron and cotton textiles and was the financial centre of the world. This meant that there was a greater need for accounting than ever. The fact that most of the country was in the process of urbanisation these prosperous times produced jobs and so it was the first time when accountants decisions had a massive influence on everybody s lives. Also with the growth of parliamentary procedure a considerable amount of legislation was introduced making it possible to govern financial aspects of daily life.
Having discussed Accountancy s power during the past we shall now discuss how powerful Accountancy is today. John Watts states that, Accounting is probably more powerful today than it has ever been. He goes onto say that accountants help to run major industrial companies, financial institutions, retail chains, and hospitals-even television stations. He says that the fate of many individuals, be they pensioners, employees, shareholders or consumers, hangs on the decisions of accountants.
This would suggest that everybody know matter what they do or where the live will have their lives in the hands of accountants. When you wake up and put the radio or television on what you here maybe in the hands of accountants since they will decide who the station can afford to hire, what programmes they can afford to run, how many advertisements they should have and how long for. When you turn the kettle on how much it will cost will be in the hands of the electricity companies accountants. Then when you have a shower how much water you can use maybe in the hands of the water board s accountants. When you put your clothes on, accountants concerned about the clothes retailer s profits will decide what you wear. Once you make it into your car an accountant namely Gordon Brown will decide how much your road tax is, how much fuel will cost and when you finally make it to work how much income tax and national insurance you will have to pay. Subsequently when you have finished work and wish to have some leisure time that to will be decided by accountants whatever you choose to do. Accountants will run every organisation that has any bearing on your life, from the church you go to on Sunday morning, to the football ground you religiously attend on Saturday afternoons. In short everything you do from sunrise to sunset (and that also) will be in the hands of accountants.
To conclude, the role of accounting has evolved through the years with humanity. From the ancient tablets of Ebla and the Papyrus scrolls found in the tomb of Chnemhotep to the till roll in your local corner shop, accounting as a concept hasn t changed. In ancient times the use of accountancy was limited to basic bookkeeping but as a powerful tool it was only in the preliminary stages of its evolution. It was only during the renaissance that the principles of accounting received a much wider audience. 25 years after the invention of the metal type printing press the whole of Europe even though they were only the elite in society had access to the concepts of double entry bookkeeping. Accountancy was growing in power as the effects of accountant s decisions were gradually affecting the daily grind of normal people with traders and merchants being the main benefactors of Pacioli s work but this opened the path for the, common man . With the industrial revolution came urbanisation, social and economic reform, and the wide spread use of accountancy. It had transformed the effect accountancy had on people from being a fragment base of power to affecting nearly everybody in some sort of context. Therefore in comparing how powerful accounting is today with its power base in the past there is no question that accounting is far more powerful today in context with the evolution of thought, art and science than it ever has been.
John Watts, 2nd edition, Accounting in the Business Environment.
B.S.Yamey, 1st edition, Further Essays on the History of Accounting.
Moonitz and Littleton, 1st edition, Significant Accounting Essays.
R.J.Chambers, 1st edition, An Accounting Thesaurus.
Ronald J.Thacker, 2nd edition, Accounting Principles.
W.A.Paton, 1st edition, Accounting Theory.
Association of Chartered Accountants of United States, www.acaus.org/history.
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