Political StandardsCorporate Interest, Ideology, and Leadership in the Shaping of Accounting Rules for the Market Economy

Political StandardsCorporate Interest, Ideology, and Leadership in the Shaping of Accounting Rules for the Market Economy

Karthik Ramanna

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226210742

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

There are certain institutions underlying our modern market-capitalist system that are largely outside the interest and understanding of the general public – e.g., rulemaking for bank capital adequacy, actuarial standards, accounting standards, and auditing practice. In these areas, corporate managers and financial experts such as auditors and bankers possess the technical expertise necessary for informed regulation, enjoy strong economic interests in the outcome, and face little resistance to their lobbying activities from the general public. These areas are known as “thin political markets” to distinguish them from more vibrant and competitive “thick” political processes (e.g., healthcare regulation). This book develops the notion of thin political markets through a vivid exploration of the political processes determining our system of accounting rules upon which depends our ability to reliably measure corporate profits in the economy. The book shows how some corporate interests, in the spirit of increasing profits, have been manipulating the very definition of profit by changing accounting rules. On one level, this corporate behavior embodies the capitalist spirit articulated by Milton Friedman: “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” But the ethics of profit-increasing behavior are premised on the logic of competition, and this logic breaks down in thin political markets. The result is a structural flaw in the determination of critical institutions of our capitalist system, which, if ignored, can undermine the legitimacy of the system. The book closes with ideas on how to fix the problem.