Numbers people are underrated. You probably have not heard of Amatino Manucci or Luca Pacioli, but they played a key role in the development of commerce though without the glamourous appeal of the adventurer types like Marco Polo or Vasco da Gama. They made contributions to the double accounting system.
Manucci kept the accounts for Giovanni Farolfi & Company, a merchant partnership based in Nîmes, France. Manucci was a partner for the Salon, South of France branch. The writing, entirely in Manucci’s hand, is neat, legible, and mostly well preserved. Financial records from 1299—1300 survive that he kept for the firm’s branch in Salon, Provence. Although these records are incomplete, they show enough detail to be identified as double-entry bookkeeping. These details include the use of debits and credits and duality of entries. “No more is known of Amatino Manucci, than this ledger that he kept.” Amatino Manucci did not invent the double entry system, that was a 100-year process (perhaps a 9,000 year process).Wikipedia
This was about the time that the Papal seat was moved to Avignon, just a short distance from Salon. The area, known for hilltop fortified villages, was surrounded by sophistication and learning.
Luca Pacioli, an Italian mathematician, Franciscan friar, collaborator with Leonardo da Vinci (there’s someone we know), came along a couple of centuries later accomplishing the great service of putting the method into a textbook.
The first published work on a double-entry bookkeeping system was the Summa de arithmetica, published in Italy in 1494 by Luca Pacioli (the “Father of Accounting”). Accounting began to transition into an organized profession in the nineteenth century, with local professional bodies in England merging to form the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in 1880.Wikipedia
The double accounting system improved the accuracy of the bookwork for transactions. Keeping proper records goes a long way to maximizing profits and use of time. Having a running tally of the monetary movement also leads to confidence amongst parties to a trade. There’s a history, a verification of how things were done as a reference.
What is exciting is there are new efforts afoot to better account for intangibles in business such as “the value of business owners’ time and expenses to build customer bases, client lists, and other intangible assets.” Our very own Ellen McGrattan at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, along with Anmol Bhandari at the U of MN, had a paper published in May 2021 which finds that the accountants have been missing a sizable amount of business assets. From the abstract:
We discipline the theory using data from U.S. national accounts, business censuses, and brokered sales to estimate a value for sweat equity in the private business sector equal to 1.2 times U.S. GDP, which is about the same magnitude as the value of fixed assets in use in these businesses.Sweat Equity in U.S. Private Business∗
In the concluding paragraph of the authors suggest that there is a problem with how this capital is categorized.
Most of the applied work focuses on one attribute at a time and imposes a strict dichotomy on the nature of the asset: alienable or inalienable, specific or general, tangible or intangible. One of the key messages from our work is that sweat capital does not fit neatly in these dichotomies. Furthermore, the fact that these assets are a substantial part of private business value will likely necessitate a review of some of the classic results concerning the boundary of the firm and its capital structure.
A portion of the efforts and energies a business owner puts into his/her company is not the same as the work an employee is paid for to show up for a job. The labor of the owner has a non-fungible bit which is retained in the business. The later transaction, cash for time worked with no further obligation, is fungible.
It sounds like McGrattan is recommending a new accounting system to keep track of these entries.