Theories Came and Went, Good Data Endured: Accounting at Cambridge

Geoff Meeks

Introduction

To most readers it may seem surprising that accounting should be included in this volume as a significant theme of the Cambridge Faculty’s first century: compared with some of the Faculty’s activities it never created much heat or noise. But I want to suggest that Cambridge work at the intersection of accounting and economics has coolly and quietly shed valuable light on fields ranging from macro- and public economics to industrial organisation and regulation, financial statement analysis to economic history;1 and that academic accounting and accounting practice are broader and more thoughtful for the Faculty’s[1] [2] involvement.

Its impact has been felt in many areas of policy, from paying for the Second World War, to managing the globalisation of financial markets, to mitigating the damage from climate change. Building on a discipline which traditionally used accounts to monitor the performance and solvency of just a

  • 1 As the contributions in accounting were generally ‘quiet’, and were dispersed across many areas of the Faculty’s work, I guess that I will have failed to include some important work. I apologise for this; and would welcome advice of such omissions.
  • 2 I am taking an inclusive view of the ‘Faculty’—DAE (Department of Applied Economics) research officers and college economics Fellows, as well as University teaching officers.

single agent—individual or business—Faculty members have pushed back the boundaries and extended the scope of accounting in many directions. They have devised ways (adopted throughout the world) of aggregating from the individual agent to the national economy, and of accounting for differences between national economies. They have extended national accounting back in time, to inform economic history. They have developed ways of linking macro with micro to integrate and forecast national, sectoral, and business accounts. They have pioneered the standardisation and electronic analysis of financial accounts for large populations of businesses. They have used management accounts to measure economies of scale. They have developed ways of measuring externalities which result in climate change and the depreciation of natural capital. In the meantime, they have also influenced the accounting profession directly—through analysis of what should be measured, and indirectly—through educating a vast number of distinguished accountants.

The chapter adopts a broader remit than would be recognised by most academic specialists in accounting. It traces two-way traffic: accounting informing economics and economics enlightening accounting. This chapter is divided into four sections. The first is national income accounting, the second business accounting. Before a final section summarising the impact of Faculty accounting outside academia, the third section is devoted to a diverse collection of ‘occasional accountants’—Faculty economists who at certain points in their careers drew on accounting to advance economics, or used insights from economics to contribute to accounting. I suspect that some of those included would be, or would have been, insulted at being tarred with the brush of accounting, which is widely viewed—I would hold mistakenly—as the dismal science’s most boring and unglamorous sister discipline. But whether or not it might be seen that way, inclusion is intended as a compliment.

  • [1] G. Meeks (и) Professor of Financial Accounting, Judge Business School,
  • [2] University of Cambridge, UKe-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017 187 R.A. Cord (ed.), The Palgrave Companion to Cambridge Economics, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-41233-1_9
 
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