Smoke & Mirrors, Inc.: Accounting for Capitalism

Overview

Enron, Arthur Andersen, Parmalat, AIG: business headlines over the last few years have stimulated worldwide interest in accounting responsibilities and standards. Smoke and Mirrors, Inc., is a remarkable introduction to contemporary accounting and its central importance for the operation of modern capitalism. Nicolas Véron, Matthieu Autret, and Alfred Galichon show how accounting always mirrored the features of contemporaneous financial systems, while remaining intrinsically subject to judgment and uncertainty ...

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Overview

Enron, Arthur Andersen, Parmalat, AIG: business headlines over the last few years have stimulated worldwide interest in accounting responsibilities and standards. Smoke and Mirrors, Inc., is a remarkable introduction to contemporary accounting and its central importance for the operation of modern capitalism. Nicolas Véron, Matthieu Autret, and Alfred Galichon show how accounting always mirrored the features of contemporaneous financial systems, while remaining intrinsically subject to judgment and uncertainty and thus leaving scope for manipulation that can convert a rotten balance sheet into a picture of robust financial health.

Beginning with the story of the fictional company Smoke & Mirrors Inc., Véron and his coauthors provide a brief history of accounting's emergence and its key concepts and practices. They then shift their focus to the political economy of the various actors involved in the preparation, auditing, and use of financial information and the new challenges facing regulators as capital markets spread across national boundaries. The authors challenge widespread beliefs that accounting practices are neutral and involve the mere reporting of objective data. They trace how different accounting standards, which alter the calculus of what counts as a "fair representation" of business dealings, can change economic behavior. Along the way they provide numerous examples and case studies, including a detailed account of the tricks with which Enron cooked its books.

For students of corporate finance, practicing accountants and businesspeople, and general readers who have followed a seemingly endless parade of financial scandals with disbelief, Smoke and Mirrors, Inc., provides a clear and concise overview of the use and abuse of accounting and of the underlying changes in today's capital markets.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Smoke and Mirrors, Inc., is an intriguing introduction to the use and abuse of accounting in the modern capitalist enterprise. It is a must-read for students, investors, regulators, and anyone interested in understanding the shenanigans behind recent corporate scandals."—Raghuram Rajan, Economic Counselor and Director of Research, International Monetary Fund

"This book is a fascinating and lively read. I know of no other book that shows with the concreteness of Smoke and Mirrors, Inc., how different economic and political systems demand and produce different kinds of financial information and how the information shapes business practices."—Suzanne Berger, MIT, author of How We Compete

"Smoke and Mirrors, Inc., focuses with great clarity on one of the most complex issues of today's markets: accounting. It shows, with concrete examples, that accounting has never been a 'neutral' technical instrument. It has always reflected the features of an evolving capitalism and the balance of influence among the different actors at play, such as shareholders, creditors, managers, and public regulators. All those who are interested in understanding the present trends of accounting, the growing complexity of such rules in increasingly globalized markets, the influence of IFRS norms on financial stability and even on the nature of business models, will find a host of fascinating facts and ideas in this book."—Jacques de Larosiére, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801444166
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2006
  • Series: Cornell Studies in Money Series
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Pt. I Accounting and its controversies
1 The common language of capitalism 7
2 "Creative accounting" and the fairness conundrum 28
3 Standard-setting and its challenges 54
Pt. II The changing world of financial reporting
4 Capitalism in flux 95
5 Auditors under scrutiny 116
6 Power to the investors? 132
7 Regulators at the crossroads 149
App. 1 Financial statements of Smoke & Mirrors, Inc. 175
App. 2 Selected controversial cases of corporate accounting 182
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