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Accounting For The Future

The auditorium was hushed as the great man himself stepped up to the podium. A respectful smattering of applause greeted his shy nod.

“My goodness, “ he exclaimed, “So many here – not all students, I see.”

Indeed, many of the faculty of business had arranged to be present. It was not often that a man such as Mr. Huntwell spoke at a mere University. He was too feted a celebrity to have the time. Parliament and talk-shows were his normal stages. However, even such a man as he remembers his beginnings and, as a past student of the University, had gladly arranged his schedule to speak to the current business students.

“My, this place brings back memories. Let me see,” he pondered a moment, “Yes, I think I used to sit about there,” he gestured toward the back right hand side of the room, “Close to the exit for a quick getaway after what seemed an interminably long lecture.”

Quick laughter filled the room as those nearest the exit ducked their heads.

“Now, unfortunately I don’t have long here – so we will start with a brief summary of how my paper, the Paper, as many call it now, came about. Please leave your questions to the end of the lecture.

“As you all know, I am a lecturer in Business Studies and, before that, I had my own little business as a tax accountant. I now have the task of trying to get concepts of accounting through the often dense material you students present as brains. I have written a number of text books and have been teaching and working in the field for, oh, nearly thirty years. This is my job, my bread and butter.

“My passion, however, is history. More importantly, the history of accounting. It is my belief, you see, that the progress of society, of civilisation, can be tracked most clearly by the methods of accounting that it employs. A simple society uses simple accounting techniques. So many bags of grain exchanged for so many cattle. That sort of thing.

“Then money got involved. And accounting developed to embrace a new way of distilling every product, every service, into a single currency of exchange. As society became even more complex, accounting again came along for the ride as we learnt to account for things that had not happened yet, anticipated expenses or incomes. We even learnt to account for things that did not really exist as society placed value on intangible assets.

“But the underlying thread has always been society’s fascination for the accumulation of wealth, for that so-called healthy bottom line. We became totally focussed on the pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all else. Accounting was virtually a simple score sheet that recorded actual outcomes.

“And this was what the body of my paper covered – in slightly more verbose terms, of course. But what everyone remembers is not the first ninety per cent of my paper on the History of Accounting but my closing paragraph. One sentence, really. You could all probably repeat it with me:

“ ‘It would be possible, with care and determination, to shape Society through Accounting methods.’ ”

Indeed, as the great man spoke, many members of the audience mouthed the words with him.

“Now, this is not an earth-shattering statement – no pun intended. However, the release of the paper coincided with a number of important events.

“Firstly, the World Bureau of Pollution Control announced that the levels of contamination in large parts of the world had reached a critical point where it was doubted the damage could be undone, given the current industrial methods.

“Secondly, the World Wide Fund for Wildlife announced that we were losing an entire species every day to extinction.

“Then the medical fraternity stood up and told us that the number of birth defects was rising at an alarming rate.

“Even these announcements may have faded into to the background if the Year of Disasters had not occurred. I have heard it described as if the earth itself had finally decided to protest her treatment. No country escaped as disaster after disaster occurred. I need not reiterate the events of that year – indeed, I am loath to do so as I know there is virtually no person who had not suffered during that time.

“During the aftermath, as people gathered themselves to determine ways to prevent such events in the future, somehow my paper came to light. I was summoned to an International crisis meeting to explain my statement and to come up with a proposal of how might they use accounting to solve our problems.
“Nor was I the only one so summoned. Many came to present solutions and ideas that ranged from the fanciful to the severely practical. One suggested, as in science fiction, we leave the planet to colonise the stars and let the Earth heal itself in time. A might expensive, it was explained to the gentleman. Another put forth the idea that we sterilise one-quarter of the population based on random selection. This actually got some backing, but it was decided that the logistics would be difficult and it would be almost impossible to police.

“The International Council, as it came to be known, finally settled on a number of projects but the heart of the reform lay with the introduction of a new world-wide accounting and taxation system. In the past, groups had tried to appeal to the moral conscience of industry and government and had, on the whole, failed. Yes, some measures had been introduced, but these mainly formed only a veneer over the real aims of industry – to make money.

“With a team of trained accountants, I developed the new system of business accounting and taxation. Briefly, steps taken to reduce pollution, to become greener, as it were, are rewarded with a graded system of tax concessions. But the measures have to hold in subsequent years for the concessions to continue. Overall reduction in pollution world-wide is also taken into account. This encourages already green businesses to aid others in achieving reductions in pollution.

“On the other hand, fines for pollution are severe and a well-funded army of Pollution Officers equipped with sophisticated technology means that, in the end, all polluters are detected and brought to justice.

“You may wish to refer to New Accounting Standard 1 ‘Valuing Green Business’ for a more detailed overview. NAS 34 & 35 are also good points to start when trying to understand the New Accounting System.”

He paused as an aide stepped forward and murmured something in his ear.

“Ah, it looks like my time is up so I am afraid I don’t have any time for questions after all. Just e-mail my office and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”

With those closing words, Mr Huntwell quickly exited the room amid thunderous applause. The Dean of the Business Studies department took the podium.

“Okay, people, just hold off rushing out to give Mr Huntwell time to suit up before exiting the dome. And before you go, I’d like to announce that industry has managed to shave another point four percent off the pollution percentage – this reduces the forecast to Total Cleanup to 550 years!”

By Dianne M. Dean from Australia