Friday, May 23, 2014

Accounting and the Liberal Arts

I've had mixed feelings about offering accounting classes in a liberal arts college economics department.  Liberal arts colleges don't typically offer accounting majors or have accounting departments, but an accounting course or two might be on the books in the economics department.

The reason for my reservations about it is that I worry that it reinforces a mis-perception that studying economics is more "vocational" or "practical" than other parts of the liberal arts curriculum - i.e., that an economics major is somehow a proxy for getting a business degree.

However, there is a good case for liberal arts students learning about accounting - financial statements are an important source of information in our society, so being able to interpret them is valuable for anyone who might want to (critically) examine the activities of businesses or the government.

This NY Times opinionator piece by Jacob Soll nicely argues for the value of accounting for an informed citizenry:
The German economic thinker Max Weber believed that for capitalism to work, average people needed to know how to do double-entry bookkeeping. This is not simply because this type of accounting makes it possible to calculate profit and capital by balancing debits and credits in parallel columns; it is also because good books are “balanced” in a moral sense. They are the very source of accountability, a word that in fact derives its origin from the word “accounting.”

No comments: