Tag Archives: Accounting Standards

The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules Part II – From Eden to Woodstock

5/9/2012 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…

Today we continue our brief trip back to one of the origins of the agitation which is The Mint:  The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules.

The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules
The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules

The following is another excerpt from our soon to be released ebook.  It will be offered  for free through Smashbooks.com in all common ebook formats in the coming months.  Enjoy!

From Eden to Woodstock

We recently attended a brief seminar which was titled “GAAP Update.”  This title, to anyone who is not an accountant, may sound like some sort of fashion show.  While I had hoped to observe some of the latest models of pocket protectors, the only thing that any reasonable person (that is you and I, “deer” reader) could observe to be “in fashion” was a decreasing reliance on professional judgment and increasing scrutiny, oversight, and more rules in the accounting profession.

In order to properly understand the above observation, we must first attempt to understand what GAAP is.  GAAP, while not addictive, should be taken in small doses.  As such, I will proceed to administer it in as small of doses as possible so that we can avoid the common side effects of confusion, drowsiness, and its other less understood attacks upon the human psyche.

GAAP, for those of you who have been fortunate enough to avoid the acronym thus far, stands for “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.”  According to Wikipedia, “GAAP is the standard framework of guidelines for financial accounting. It includes the standards, conventions, and rules accountants follow in recording and summarizing transactions, and in the preparation of financial statements.”  Wikipedia goes on to list the principles by which GAAP is guided by as the principles of sincerity, permanence of methods, non-compensation, prudence, continuity, and periodicity.

The presenter at the seminar, a brilliant local CPA, alluded to what we are now calling the “subtle change from principles to rules” when he mentioned that the words “should” and “must” were now explicitly defined in the new accounting guidelines in such a way that it had all but eliminated professional judgment from his profession.

His statements referred to the new requirements which Statement of Accounting Standards 102, entitled “Defining Professional Requirements in Statements on Auditing Standards,” enjoined upon those condemned to his chosen profession.  Where the word “must” appears, the accountant is to understand that the requirement is unconditional and must be performed.  This is straightforward enough, and even highly trained professionals would have trouble arguing this definition.

It is the stated definition of the word “should,” which has from time immortal been the fallback for the imprudent when explaining why something was not done, which took the man aback.  For the word “should,” from now to eternity, shall indicate a “presumptively mandatory requirement,” which for practical purposes, makes it just another spelling of the word “must.”

On the surface, this sounds like a simple and presumably necessary clarification made in the name of making the writings of accountants more accessible to the general public and the ethics of the general public more accessible to accountants.

The deeper truth, the one that our brilliant local CPA alluded to, is that trust in professional judgment has disintegrated and the need for specific, carefully worded instructions that remove the need for “flawed” professional judgment is taking its place.  This should alarm us all, as the accounting profession is by no means the only field that this subtle change is taking place in.

[Editor’s note:  If you would like to witness for yourself the alarming rate of the expansion of rules written by agencies of the Federal Government, a peek at regulations.gov at any given time will give you a general idea of the proliferation of rules in society.]

Any institution that is organized by human beings, such as a company, a religion, a government, or a football team, follows a pattern.  Observe closely, “deer” reader, and see if you can pull an example from your own experience.  These institutions begin with some sort of principle or set of principles.  The person or persons, whom we will call the founders of the institution, understand the principles upon which they were founded and tacitly operate according to these principles.

When something is in its genesis, it is fresh and exciting.  Possibilities bound about, like deer in a meadow in early spring.  It is a thing to behold.  People flock to this bounding, this life, to simply breathe it in and to somehow be a part of it.

“Let it always be this way!” they say, “I love this!  How can I join?”

The founders may or may not have decided how one can join.  In the beginning, at the genesis of the institution, it hardly matters.  If people are not allowed to join formally, they will do so by imitation.  Such is the charismatic nature of an attractive institution which is run on sound principles.

At this stage, whether formally invited or not, people flock to the institution in great multitudes.  Everyone wants to bound with the deer, drink from the stream, to lie in the grass.

Then, something begins to happen.  The people, who were not there at the genesis, do not understand why the deer are bounding.  And when the deer try to explain this to them, the people may not understand or perhaps may disagree with the reasons given for their joyful bounding.  In this miscommunication, the principles get lost or distorted.

Nevertheless, the people agree that the bounding must continue, and increase, by all means.  They continue to flock to the meadow.  Soon, because of the crowds, the bounding area becomes a mosh pit, the water in the stream becomes undrinkable, and the grass turns to mud.

Yes, the once fair meadow full of bounding deer has quickly turned into a scene from Woodstock.

Stay tuned for further sections and Trust Jesus.

Stay Fresh!

David Mint

Email: davidminteconomics@gmail.com

The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules Part I – Introduction

5/4/2012 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…

Today we wish to take you, fellow taxpayer, on a brief trip back to where it all began, to one of the origins of the agitation which causes your author to pen his thoughts in an attempt to understand the world about him:  The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules. 

The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules
The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules

This collection of essays is more an observation than an explanation, which is why we so enjoyed writing it.  Over the next few days we will be presenting to our faithful readers our soon to be released ebook.  It will be offered  for free through Smashbooks.com in all common ebook formats in the coming months.

It is the glory of God to hide things, and the glory of man to discover them.  It is a beautiful, mysterious existence which we live in, and there is a tension between what is revealed to us and what is to remain a mystery.  This tension is inescapable, and the best one can hope for is to find satisfaction within this tension.  Clinging to mystery is to operate in darkness.  Clinging to revelation is to live in the past as the future races by.

Thank you for joining us in our observation of what is happening all around us.

The Subtle Change from Principles to Rules

INTRODUCTION

In the lazy summer days of 2007, the world appeared to be getting its groove back.  Few, if any, were the signs pointing to the financial catastrophe that was about to unfold.

Yet despite the feeling of relative calm and optimism, it was clear that a deep and permanent change was occurring at the very base of society.  Suspicion was beginning to replace trust and goodwill amongst men.

This brief book is a compilation of three essays that were written during the summer of 2007 and first published in October 2010.  They deal with a revelation that was given to us as we were attending a breakfast presentation on upcoming changes to the US accounting standards.  Instead of fighting off the drowsiness which usually accompanies listening to accounting jargon, we found ourselves grappling with a deeply disturbing truth that increasingly defines life in America to this day.

American society, which had built itself and created an unprecedented dynamism by operating on the basis of tacitly agreed upon principles, was now turning to the blunt instrument of rules as the basis for relationships.

An understanding of this subtle shift in American thinking will greatly aid one in understanding the seemingly inexplicable changes that they see all around them.

Clearly, rules have always been a part of life.  They are nothing new.  What was, and is new, is the power that is now being ascribed to rules. In America, it was often the case that a rule would be written and modified on the basis of an underlying principle.  Rules for the sake of having them did not make much sense.

Now, circa 2012, the power is continuing to shift to the rules themselves.  While the hallmark of principles is that they are flexible enough to adapt to constantly changing circumstances, rules tend to serve as a kind of concrete for society which, as they harden, completely paralyzes anything that finds itself trapped amongst them.

Societies based on rules are nothing new.  In fact, they are sadly becoming the norm throughout the world.  Perhaps the clearest high level distinction between a society that operates on the basis of principles and one that operates on a basis of rules is whether it finds its legal basis in English Common Law, which generally produces outcomes based on equity before the law and a reasonable standard; and Napoleonic Code with its strict adherence to written rules which often has little flexibility regarding the individual circumstance that is being examined

These essays deal with the shift, then, from America’s predisposition to operate on the basis of English Common Law to that of the rigidity of Napoleonic Code, and the inevitable consequences of making this shift.

The eternal question that we present here, “deer” reader, is whether or not one will stay in the meadow once as they see this shift occur.

Stay tuned for further sections and Trust Jesus.

Stay Fresh!

David Mint

Email: davidminteconomics@gmail.com