The Accountant's Guide to the Universe: Heaven and Hell by the Numbersby Craig Hovey
They said it couldn't be done, but The Accountant's Guide to the Universe is the first entertaining book on accounting written for a general audience.
The book opens with a wild premise: Heaven and Hell have been outsourced to a giant company in a distant galaxy and they are now in charge of determining who goes where after death. The entire universe/p>/i>
They said it couldn't be done, but The Accountant's Guide to the Universe is the first entertaining book on accounting written for a general audience.
The book opens with a wild premise: Heaven and Hell have been outsourced to a giant company in a distant galaxy and they are now in charge of determining who goes where after death. The entire universe is scoured for an objective system that can be adapted to the task, and it is found, in the form of accounting, in the least civilized backwater of the universe, Earth!
The book is also a morality tale. It demonstrates how financial scandals (a la Bernie Madoff and many others) can be pulled off with "creative accounting," and how much a person adds or subtracts from the universe by their actions.
Written for anybody who has taken an accounting class, practices it for a living, or is simply interested in seeing how a system designed to record finances can also be used to judge the entire universe will be enlightened by The Accountant's Guide to the Universe.
- St. Martin's Press
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The Accountant's Guide to the Universe
Heaven and Hell by the Numbers
By Craig Hovey
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Craig Hovey
All rights reserved.
The Outsourcing of Heaven and Hell
First you learn to measure with dollars. Then you gain the sense to account for eternity.
Accounting's rise to eternal prominence began soon after God outsourced Heaven and Hell to AudiTrix. AudiTrix is a huge conglomerate headquartered in the Triangulum Galaxy and their operations span the universe. Since AudiTrix did not have God's all-knowing power, it was vital that it develop a sound process for deciding who went where in the afterlife. Eternity is forever, after all, and that leaves little margin for error.
In the Beginning
In the early days of its Heaven and Hell operations AudiTrix addressed the new venture by organizing judgment councils of Supreme Counters. Nine members constituted each council and they were charged with reviewing the life events of recently deceased subjects. Their task was three-part: first, to total and weight all the good things judgees had done in life, with "good" defined as actions that added value to the world they inhabited; second, to total and weight all the bad things judgees had done in life, with "bad" defined as actions that detracted from the value of their worlds; and third, to subtract the total value of the bad from the total value of the good to arrive at a net score. Then, all the Supreme Counters' net scores were added together and divided by nine. This yielded a number that, in the early days, came to be known as the Final Result of the Wise Nine, or FROWN, Index. A positive FROWN meant that the judgee before them had left the world a better place and Heaven would be the final destination. The higher the index score, the loftier the heavenly perch. A negative FROWN meant that the judgee had left the world in worse shape and Hell became the final destination. The depth and heat of the eternal divot was determined by how low the index had been driven.
AudiTrix provided Supreme Counters with extensive Life Event Assessment and Calculation training. The counters themselves were chosen from almost every walk of life, with the common requirement being that all were wise, mature beings with vetted histories of sound and fair conduct. It seemed reasonable to assume that nine such council members could be depended on to arrive at fair and balanced majority decisions with regularity.
Before long, however, it became apparent that no amount of LEAC training or reasoned debate could prevent irregularity. Personal opinions, lapses of judgment, grudges and vendettas, outside pressures, and outright corruption (Supreme Counters were not well paid) plagued the process. Many an innocent received a one-way ticket to Hell and plenty of evildoers found their way into Heaven on the heels of 5-4 split decisions.
God saw this, and he was not pleased. Before long his patience wore thin and AudiTrix received a wrathful Lightning Bolt Express message commanding it to suspend operations immediately. AudiTrix had forty days and forty nights to prepare and present a dramatically better approach for God's approval.
From the Mouths of Barbarians
What AudiTrix needed to find in a hurry was a simple, fair, and objective system with principles so clearly spelled out that all room for creative application and abuse was removed. Any being facing judgment in any time or place had to know that the rules would lead to the same decision, regardless of whether best friend or worst enemy administered the judgment mechanism. Determined not to lose its divine contract and face universal scorn and ridicule, AudiTrix threw itself into scouring galaxies near and far for ideas and inspiration. No solar system was left unturned and envoys were dispatched to every planet where intelligent life had taken root.
Earth barely made the cut, but it was there that AudiTrix's desperate search met with astounding success.
Twelve thousand years earlier a group of AudiTrix executives had visited Earth on a corporate team-building exercise that required them to negotiate the rigors of a primitive environment. The idea was to help them improve their skills at dealing with difficult customers. They found Earth to be a hostile planet whose populations were mired in shockingly backward states of existence. Its most advanced species, human beings, were organized in small bands of hunter-gatherers barely able to feed, clothe, or shelter themselves. They were completely unable to get along with anybody outside their familial clans and regarded all who strayed into their territories as instant enemies.
Before the AudiTrix executives had a chance to bond with each other and begin banging on their assigned drums, a swarm of spear-wielding Neanderthals with murder on their minds mistook the strange looking back-slapping creatures for a new food source and attacked. With their training mission ending in a bloody disaster, all undigested AudiTrix personnel fled Earth and swore never to return — though the planet continued to receive upper-management support as a perfect training site for heel-nipping youngsters rising up through the ranks too rapidly.
Despite this earlier sordid episode, a few brave envoys decided to make a side trip to Earth after an excursion to a more promising nearby planet, Neptune, bore no fruit. What they found stunned them. In a mere twelve thousand years humans had organized themselves into economies of incredible complexity, breadth, and efficiency where the surest path to wealth required all members to trade their limited resources with each other in ways that benefited every party to the exchange. So successful did the process prove to be that life spans had tripled since the last AudiTrix visit and living standards were even more dramatically improved. All of this occurred in an interval that is a mere flash in terms of evolutionary time.
For AudiTrix's purposes it was not human progress itself that caught its devoted attention but the mechanism employed for tracking and evaluating it. This system followed deceptively simple rules, making it possible for any entity to document everything he or she owned, earned, owed, used up, and had left over after all the bills were paid. It measured the valuable limited resources sacrificed and all resources gained in return, and then clearly stated the difference between the two as a profit or loss. Standard units of measure were used to generate the numbers, and all those viewing them agreed on their values.
Not only were all inflows and outflows of resources recorded; each transaction consisted of increases and decreases in various accounts that always balanced out, with no exceptions. Whether for the smallest concern or the largest enterprise, when the accounting system's transactions were totaled, the scales of value were equal on either side, even if they were made up of millions or billions of exchanges per day. Clear rules existed to guide operations and numerous provisions were in place to dictate responsibilities for insiders and outsiders alike, making sure that the rules were being obeyed.
The method employed on Earth was called accounting, a name AudiTrix retained, along with the basic rules and spirit of the discipline itself. What amazed observers most was that humans, formerly known as the most violent, suspicious, and antisocial species on Earth or any other planet, had devised an information system that showed them how much better or worse off their pursuits made them and provided irrefutable evidence that cooperating with others brought great benefits. The invention and implementation of accounting did for humans what millions of years' worth of evolution could not.
AudiTrix said to its corporate self, "If accounting can do this much for savages, imagine how well it will work for the civilized portions of the universe!" AudiTrix envoys multiplied and quickly spread out over the face of the Earth to gather up every piece of information on the discipline they could find, and then uploaded it to corporate headquarters.
At the end of forty days and forty nights AudiTrix made its presentation. God saw that earthly accounting was good and had the potential to be fitted to the purposes of Heaven and Hell. But before allowing it to be fruitful and multiply throughout the universe, God decreed that AudiTrix first use Earth as an exclusive field-test site, where it could observe accounting boldly going where no bean counting had gone before.
If accounting could make it there, accounting could make it anywhere.CHAPTER 2
To err is human; to profit is divine.
Mastering accounting is like learning how to speak a new language. On Earth accounting is called the "language of business," but in a more universal sense it is the language of choice. Accounting as practiced in the earthly business realm uses currency to record the actions of individuals and firms and then goes on to document how well or how poorly the decisions they made pay off in the future.
This framework, AudiTrix concluded, could be expanded to assess the conduct of individuals in the course of living their lives. Dollars and cents cannot be used for this broader application, of course, which is why karma koins were invented. Before their workings can be fathomed, though, it is necessary to understand the basics of standard-issue accounting, as practiced from the wilds of Wall Street to the shops on Main Street.
After their proposal for revising and redeploying the Heaven and Hell operation was conditionally accepted, the counters at AudiTrix developed a rigorous training program to teach this new language to fresh recruits and ensure that they gained a high level of fluency in it. Recruits successfully completing their training were no longer simply told to go forth and judge; instead, their competence was tested with a grueling two-day examination. Those who sat for it successfully were certified to become practitioners of the eternal accounting art and given the HAP designation to put after their names. This identified them as "heavenly auditing professionals," that is, professionals of the highest order. AudiTrix then created a corporate slogan to accompany the new credential: "Nobody shall be HAP-less on Judgment Day."
Becoming a HAP entails mastering traditional accounting and demonstrating the ability to apply its concepts to the much harder to measure realms of human intention, action, and result. Merely recording that which is easiest to measure does not yield an accurate valuation of firms or individuals. Intangibles must be considered, such as quality of life, contributions made to the present and future well-being of others, and what people are able to make of the differing amounts of resources they are given at the starting line.
From the Pendulum into the Pit
I, your author, am among those who were judged and sent to Hell by AudiTrix before it made the switch to earthly accounting, in the days when easily observable actions were all that counted. Though I never quarreled with the interpretations of the negative things I was caught doing on eternal tape — this would have been stupid because it does not lie — there is another side to me that was ignored (and is admittedly harder to locate). To conduct a true accounting, all transactions have to be included: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unexpected. Along with many other dwellers in the universe's hottest cellar, I came to believe that the decision to place me there was based on incomplete information, and therefore was poorly made.
Fortunately for all of us, our combined voices rose up from the coiled bowels of Hell and caught the attention of a passing angel, who volleyed our anguished cries upward through the ranks until they reached the One Set of Ears That Matters Most.
Many of my fellow protestors were successful in gaining new hearings and seeing their original judgments overturned. They continue to lounge peacefully far overhead as these words are written (smiling down on me smugly, I bet). My new lot in afterlife did not include the same happy kind of promotion. Though the heat is off for now, Purgatory is my temporary home. The success or failure of this book in explaining the basics of accounting and its adaptation as the outsourced right hand of the Almighty to a broad audience of current and future judgees will tip the scales up or down.
Back to School
My first encounter with AudiTrix took place soon after I died, though the fact of my death was not apparent to me immediately. Even if it had been, my faith was so long lost that the possibility of an eternal judgment coming on the heels of my demise would never have appeared on my radar. In my opinion at the time, life was mostly hard, sometimes fun, and returned us to Mother Earth, and nothing more, when it ended.
Before I knew better, it simply seemed that one morning I woke up and found myself sitting in a waiting room that looked like my dentist's. Tattered, out-of-date gossip magazines covered the cheap end tables. A fish tank in the corner sported more algae than water and hid the fish like a thick, spongy green curtain. Worried-looking people were stuffed into an uncomfortable collection of mismatched chairs. Though I had no memory of coming to be there, that fact did not bother me. Many a morning started the same way, with me going through the painful motions after a late night with no short-term memories left behind. An impaired intellect prone to spotty performance would dog me deep into the new day. That handicap made going with the flow quietly a sensible strategy.
A bored-looking receptionist slid open the glass partition in front of her desk and called out, "Luke Adams, the council will receive you now."
Feeling dazed, confused, and beset by a nasty headache, I rose and went through the same door I had seen a steady flow of people disappear beyond. Seemed strange that nobody had returned yet, I thought to myself. I looked back over my shoulder and saw that the waiting room was now empty.
The last thing I could remember was vacationing in Brazil and going hang-gliding off Rio de Janeiro's ocean cliffs. A shiver humped across my shoulder blades at the sudden vision of the craft's left wing breaking loose, sending me into a wild tailspin, corkscrewing downward into a nasty cluster of boulders in the surf. The scene went black a split second before I hit.
During this brief reverie the receptionist led the way down a short corridor and ushered me into a vast, formal-looking room, then turned on her heel and padded away on the kind of shoes hospital nurses wear. The far side was taken up by a large, raised bench that seated nine jowly men in dark robes — a stiff, somber, and purposeful group. Seated in the middle of the pack, the grayest and stiffest among them banged his gavel.
"Mr. Luke Adams, you are here to receive your final judgment."
"Is this traffic court?" I asked, recalling the crumpled mass of tickets stuffed into the largest of my desk drawers, "I really did mean to pay. Can I send in a check?"
The other eight members stared straight ahead. Only the elder acknowledged my presence, though he, too, ignored my ticket concerns.
"We have arrived at a decision," he intoned gravely, "Please review the evidence about to be presented. Should you have any objections, time will be allotted to address them."
What looked like a 1970s disco light ball descended from the ceiling and began flashing images on all four walls at once. They were images of my life, but the sequences appeared and disappeared so fast and furiously that trying to follow them only made me dizzy. I did have a vague impression that my finest hours were being glossed over, but maybe the good deeds were too paltry and few to rise above the fray.
Apparently these men of the bench had already seen the film, or were able to follow it better than I, for within seconds of its conclusion, after the regular room lights came back on but before the disco ball had been fully retracted into the ceiling, they acted decisively. Reaching into their robes in unison, each withdrew a postcard-sized piece of paper with a number written on it and thrust it high over his head, as though trying to imitate Olympic swimming judges. I had never seen negative scores in the Olympics, though. The head judge scanned the scores, glanced up at where the ball had been swallowed by the ceiling, moved his lips briefly, then lowered his head and looked me dead in the eye.
"Mr. Adams, your final score is a negative four-point-seven, and I am sure you know what that means by now. Do you have any questions on how we arrived at it?"
"How you arrived at it?" I blurted indignantly. "I don't even know what it means."
I did learn what it meant soon after. That nine-member average, no longer called the FROWN because their wisdom was coming under increasing scrutiny, had become known as the WAISTED Index, which stands for When All Is Said, Totaled, and Eternally Decided. Right or wrong or good or bad judgment mattered little because the right of appeal did not exist. It had never come up, pre-AudiTrix, back when eternal decisions were made by the One All Knowing.
Excerpted from The Accountant's Guide to the Universe by Craig Hovey. Copyright © 2010 Craig Hovey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
CRAIG HOVEY teaches economics at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York.
When not gaining stock tips from six-legged friends for his book The Way of the Cockroach, Craig Hovey teaches economics at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. He is also the author of The Patent Process and The ADHD Fraud (with Dr. Fred Baughman).
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