Much like prostitution or drug dealing, accounting is an ancient, venerable profession. Much like mainstream religions and superhero comics, it has its own elaborate origin story.
In 1494, Luca Pacioli finally completed his civilisation-altering Summa de Arithmetica, a Renaissance-era masterpiece that helped introduce double-ledger accounting to the dark art of financial management. Where merchants had previously consulted wizards, astrologers and sangomas on how best to keep their books, they now had at their disposal a simple, inviolable axiom: “For every credit in a ledger, there must also be a debit.”
“As we leave Enlightenment rationality in the rear view mirror and careen into a re-upped age of magic and occultism, it shouldn’t be surprising that the basic tenets of accounting – the credit/debit dichotomy – now resembles a tangle of sweaty serpents rutting their way through an orgy. Enron, Lehman Brothers, Steinhoff, the Guptas: tricky accounting has ripped open the membrane of trust on which the entire financial system is premised.
“Although economics is cloaked in the rhetoric of science, the modern economy runs on faith,” noted the economist academic Richard Norgaard. “The economy, in other words, really is the world’s greatest faith-based organisation.
“It’s currently a big, f*%king, mess.”
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