Thursday, April 30, 2009

Einstein, Marky Mark, Write-Offs

I cannot say for sure, but I would be surprised if there are other posts that discuss accounting rules, Einstein, and Mark Wahlberg. Welcome to the Playground.

YKW asks,

"What would Einstein say about the scientific viability of mark-to-market accounting for the value of illiquid securities?"
The best place to look is his speech in 1921 to the Prussian Academy of Sciences where he discusses linguistic conventions.
Let us for a moment consider from this point of view any axiom of geometry, for instance, the following: through two points in space there always passes one and only one straight line. How is this axiom to be interpreted in the older sense and in the more modern sense?

The older interpretation: everyone knows what a straight line is, and what a point is. Whether this knowledge springs from an ability of the human mind or from experience, from some cooperation of the two or from some other source, is not for the mathematician to decide. He leaves the question to the philosopher. Being based upon this knowledge, which precedes all mathematics, the axiom stated above is, like all other axioms, self-evident, that is, it is the expression of a part of this a priori knowledge.

The more modern interpretation: geometry treats of objects, which are denoted by the words straight line, point, etc. No knowledge or intuition of these objects is assumed but only the validity of the axioms, such as the one stated above, which are to be taken in a purely formal sense, i.e., as void of all content of intuition or experience. These axioms are free creations of the human mind. All other propositions of geometry are logical inferences from the axioms (which are to be taken in the nominalistic sense only). The axioms define the objects of which geometry treats. Schlick in his book on epistemology has therefore characterized axioms very aptly as "implicit definitions."
Here, he is arguing that certain aspects of mathematics are freely chosen linguistic conventions and this is also the case in terms of accounting rules. The tax code, like Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, is a set of basic rules that are freely determined. Once they are in place, there are facts of the world about who owes what, who has paid what, and who has violated the law and should go to prison. But we are always free to alter those rules and that will mean a reinterpretation of empirical data.

Of course, you might also want to check out his essay "Why Socialism?" from 1949 in order to see what he thinks about our ability to make the changes that would benefit humanity:
"Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights."

Philo asks,
"What would Marky Mark say about the scientific viability of mark-to-market accounting for the value of illiquid securities?"
Deductions, good like Sunkist
Many wanna know who done this
Marky Mark and I'm here to move you
Write downs that will groove you
Balance sheet, I will improve you
That we can debit on the positive side
And truly amoratize
Default swaps took you on a ride
Accounting is my occupation
So feel my inflation