In the past couple of days I’ve run into a couple of places in the internet that left we confused.
Western accounting needs to recast the narrow, individualistic and economically bound concept of asset, claiming that much would be gained from recognising that there are things of value beyond those defined by individual property rights and economic reckoning
This seems like an aimless statement to me. Private individuals value their asset based on issues of private value – this is hardly surprising. Government takes into account concepts of broader “social value” when they do accounts, or look at the value of policies. What methodological value is there from using a different word for social value to describe it?
Giving things new names doesn’t actually add value to how we describe them, unless the context is to translate these broad concepts for a cultural specific context! In truth, it isn’t “western accounting” that needs to learn from this – if the government is trying to work out social value, then we would want to use standard western accounting methodologies with these specific cultural contexts in mind.
Now don’t get me wrong, the willingness to attack “western” accounting immediately shows that the authors want to attack an arbitrary strawman, than to credibly discuss what organisations are trying to achieve with accounting values and then asking how to transparently represent that. And this brings me to my second link – Buddhist economics.
Contrary to the description given of “western” economics on this post, there is a focus on “social value” in mainstream economics – there is a huge focus on it.
But the very description behind Buddhist economics here is worse than that – for some reason the author of the Wikipedia page has decided that the purpose of economics is to tell people how to live their lives, rather than describing scarcity and trade-offs. Given this, the article finds fault with economics because it dares to assume that people act in a self-interested way.
Of course, we’ve seen this ethical confusion before – a million times. People presume that since economists are willing to discuss trade-offs we lack morals. Now, a clear moral and ethical standpoint IS required to decide on what SHOULD be done, and what policy SHOULD be picked by government. But everything that I keep seeing economists attacked for, and in this case accountants as well, is merely describing something.
Now does this happen because people find it hard to distinguish between description and prescription? Or is the issue that people think economists framing of issues IS the driver of certain ethical outcomes in policy, and that our pretense of separating “description” and “prescription” is flawed?