Filled with colorful characters and history, Double Entry takes us from the ancient origins of accounting in Mesopotamia to the frontiers of modern finance. At the heart of the story is double-entry bookkeeping: the first system that allowed merchants to actually measure the worth of their businesses. Luca Pacioli—monk, mathematician, alchemist, and friend of Leonardo da Vinci—incorporated Arabic mathematics to formulate a system that could work across all trades and nations. As Jane Gleeson-White reveals, double-entry accounting was nothing short of revolutionary: it fueled the Renaissance, enabled capitalism to flourish, and created the global economy. John Maynard Keynes would use it to calculate GDP, the measure of a nation’s wealth. Yet double-entry accounting has had its failures. With the costs of sudden corporate collapses such as Enron and Lehman Brothers, and its disregard of environmental and human costs, the time may have come to re-create it for the future.
This is the story of a twenty-first-century revolution being led by the most unlikely of rebels: accountants. Only the second revolution in accounting since double-entry bookkeeping began, it is of seismic proportions, driven by the 2008 financial crash and our ongoing environmental crisis. The changes it will wreak are profound and far-reaching and not only will transform the way the world does business but also will alter the nature of capitalism.
While the wealth of nations and corporations has been vital to the global economy, increasingly the world is coming to realize that such endless growth is limited by the earth's resources and comes at a huge price to the planet and to human well-being. It simply cannot be sustained.
This revolution demands that we go beyond merely accounting for traditional financial and industrial capital and take account of the benefits and detriments to the natural world and society. It urges us to include four new categories of wealth: intellectual (such as intellectual property), human (skills, productivity, and health), social and relationship (shared norms and values), and natural (environment). Making them part of our financial statements and GDP figures may be the only way to address the many calamities we face.
Just two years ago this revolution seemed idealistic and unlikely. Today it is quickly unfolding. In 2012, the sea-change year, two key initiatives took root: an international movement to transform how corporate accounting is calculated and the rise of incorporating the effects on the environment to the accounting of national and global economies. Six Capitals tells the story of this coming new age in capitalism, evaluating its promise and the disaster that lies ahead if it is not implemented.