St. Martin's Press
First you learn to measure with dollars. Then you gain the sense to account for eternity.
Accounting’s rise to eternal prominence began soon after God outsourced Heaven and Hell to AudiTrix. AudiTrix is a huge conglomerate headquartered in the Triangulum Galaxy and their operations span the universe. Since AudiTrix did not have God’s all-knowing power, it was vital that it develop a sound process for deciding who went where in the afterlife. Eternity is forever, after all, and that leaves little margin for error.
In the Beginning
In the early days of its Heaven and Hell operations AudiTrix addressed the new venture by organizing judgment councils of Supreme Counters. Nine members constituted each council and they were charged with reviewing the life events of recently deceased subjects. Their task was three-part: first, to total and weight all the good things judgees had done in life, with “good” defined as actions that added value to the world they inhabited; second, to total and weight all the bad things judgees had done in life, with “bad” defined as actions that detracted from the value of their worlds; and third, to subtract the total value of the bad from the total value of the good to arrive at a net score. Then, all the Supreme Counters’ net scores were added together and divided by nine. This yielded a number that, in the early days, came to be known as the Final Result of the Wise Nine, or FROWN, Index. A positive FROWN meant that the judgee before them had left the world a better place and Heaven would be the final destination. The higher the index score, the loftier the heavenly perch. A negative FROWN meant that the judgee had left the world in worse shape and Hell became the final destination. The depth and heat of the eternal divot was determined by how low the index had been driven.
AudiTrix provided Supreme Counters with extensive Life Event Assessment and Calculation training. The counters themselves were chosen from almost every walk of life, with the common requirement being that all were wise, mature beings with vetted histories of sound and fair conduct. It seemed reasonable to assume that nine such council members could be depended on to arrive at fair and balanced majority decisions with regularity.
Before long, however, it became apparent that no amount of LEAC training or reasoned debate could prevent irregularity. Personal opinions, lapses of judgment, grudges and vendettas, outside pressures, and outright corruption (Supreme Counters were not well paid) plagued the process. Many an innocent received a one-way ticket to Hell and plenty of evildoers found their way into Heaven on the heels of 5-4 split decisions.
God saw this, and he was not pleased. Before long his patience wore thin and AudiTrix received a wrathful Lightning Bolt Express message commanding it to suspend operations immediately. AudiTrix had forty days and forty nights to prepare and present a dramatically better approach for God’s approval.
From the Mouths of Barbarians
What AudiTrix needed to find in a hurry was a simple, fair, and objective system with principles so clearly spelled out that all room for creative application and abuse was removed. Any being facing judgment in any time or place had to know that the rules would lead to the same decision, regardless of whether best friend or worst enemy administered the judgment mechanism. Determined not to lose its divine contract and face universal scorn and ridicule, AudiTrix threw itself into scouring galaxies near and far for ideas and inspiration. No solar system was left unturned and envoys were dispatched to every planet where intelligent life had taken root.
Earth barely made the cut, but it was there that AudiTrix’s desperate search met with astounding success.
Twelve thousand years earlier a group of AudiTrix executives had visited Earth on a corporate team-building exercise that required them to negotiate the rigors of a primitive environment. The idea was to help them improve their skills at dealing with difficult customers. They found Earth to be a hostile planet whose populations were mired in shockingly backward states of existence. Its most advanced species, human beings, were organized in small bands of hunter-gatherers barely able to feed, clothe, or shelter themselves. They were completely unable to get along with anybody outside their familial clans and regarded all who strayed into their territories as instant enemies.
Before the AudiTrix executives had a chance to bond with each other and begin banging on their assigned drums, a swarm of spear-wielding Neanderthals with murder on their minds mistook the strange looking back-slapping creatures for a new food source and attacked. With their training mission ending in a bloody disaster, all undigested AudiTrix personnel fled Earth and swore never to return—though the planet continued to receive upper-management support as a perfect training site for heel-nipping youngsters rising up through the ranks too rapidly.
Despite this earlier sordid episode, a few brave envoys decided to make a side trip to Earth after an excursion to a more promising nearby planet, Neptune, bore no fruit. What they found stunned them. In a mere twelve thousand years humans had organized themselves into economies of incredible complexity, breadth, and efficiency where the surest path to wealth required all members to trade their limited resources with each other in ways that benefited every party to the exchange. So successful did the process prove to be that life spans had tripled since the last AudiTrix visit and living standards were even more dramatically improved. All of this occurred in an interval that is a mere flash in terms of evolutionary time.
For AudiTrix’s purposes it was not human progress itself that caught its devoted attention but the mechanism employed for tracking and evaluating it. This system followed deceptively simple rules, making it possible for any entity to document everything he or she owned, earned, owed, used up, and had left over after all the bills were paid. It measured the valuable limited resources sacrificed and all resources gained in return, and then clearly stated the difference between the two as a profit or loss. Standard units of measure were used to generate the numbers, and all those viewing them agreed on their values.
Not only were all inflows and outflows of resources recorded; each transaction consisted of increases and decreases in various accounts that always balanced out, with no exceptions. Whether for the smallest concern or the largest enterprise, when the accounting system’s transactions were totaled, the scales of value were equal on either side, even if they were made up of millions or billions of exchanges per day. Clear rules existed to guide operations and numerous provisions were in place to dictate responsibilities for insiders and outsiders alike, making sure that the rules were being obeyed.
The method employed on Earth was called accounting, a name AudiTrix retained, along with the basic rules and spirit of the discipline itself. What amazed observers most was that humans, formerly known as the most violent, suspicious, and antisocial species on Earth or any other planet, had devised an information system that showed them how much better or worse off their pursuits made them and provided irrefutable evidence that cooperating with others brought great benefits. The invention and implementation of accounting did for humans what millions of years’ worth of evolution could not.
AudiTrix said to its corporate self, “If accounting can do this much for savages, imagine how well it will work for the civilized portions of the universe!” AudiTrix envoys multiplied and quickly spread out over the face of the Earth to gather up every piece of information on the discipline they could find, and then uploaded it to corporate headquarters.
At the end of forty days and forty nights AudiTrix made its presentation. God saw that earthly accounting was good and had the potential to be fitted to the purposes of Heaven and Hell. But before allowing it to be fruitful and multiply throughout the universe, God decreed that AudiTrix first use Earth as an exclusive field-test site, where it could observe accounting boldly going where no bean counting had gone before.
If accounting could make it there, accounting could make it anywhere.
THE ACCOUNTANT’S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE Copyright © 2010 by Craig HoveyCRAIG HOVEY teaches economics at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York.