III. The Business as Accounting Entity: The ratio (account)
1. The historical development of accounting. — The introduction of accounting was of the greatest significance for the full development of the capitalistic enterprise.
We know that the artisanal organization of medieval trade (and anything like bookkeeping was unthinkable for other branches of business life) found its expression in an incomplete and highly personalized bookkeeping. The sparse and confused collection of notes which characterizes the German trade books of the 14th and 15th centuries had, as sole object, to recall to the memory of the business manager particular events and conditions in his business. The books were memoranda in the most primitive sense of the word.
The public household was the place where an organized or “objective” bookkeeping, comprehensible to third parties took root.
Naturally, the Italian city communities took the first steps. From the 13th century on, perhaps even earlier, orderly business management starts to appear. Inventories of movable and real property are taken, the tavole delle possessioni in Florence, in two copies; special officials (notai) are appointed to provide annual reports on the public debt (Milan, Pisa, Florence) . Strict supervision of communal receipts and payraents is introduced. In 1225 the Milanese Podesta orders a monthly check on the government cash and requires officials to submit monthly accounts. All statutes contain bookkeeping regulations: the Breve pisano of 1286, for example, requires two separate books, one for receipts and one for payments; in Venice monthly audits and surprise cash checks shall take place. Balance sheets were constructed for the Italian states in the 14th century: we have them for Florence from the years 1336-38, for Treviso from 1341, for Rome from 1358, for Milan from 1463. Continue reading
MASS PRODUCTION. The term mass production is used to describe the modern method by which great quantities of a single standardized commodity are manufactured. As commonly employed it is made to refer to the quantity produced, but its primary reference is to method. In several particulars the term is unsatisfactory. Mass production is not merely quantity production, for this may be had with none of the requisites of mass production. Nor is it merely machine production, which also may exist without any resemblance to mass production. Mass production is the focussing upon a manufacturing project of the principles of power, accuracy, economy, system, continuity and speed. The interpretation of these principles, through studies of operation and machine development and their co-ordination, is the conspicuous task of management. And the normal result is a productive organisation that delivers in quantities a useful commodity of standard material, workmanship and design at minimum cost. The necessary, precedent condition of mass production is a capacity, latent or developed, of mass consumption, the ability to absorb large production. The two go together, and in the latter may be traced the reasons for the former. Continue reading
Translated by John Mepham and Mike Soneuscher 1
The analysis of the historical development of the labour process and of the complex forms of its current organisation, as well as any attempt to foresee possible future developments or devise alternative scenarios for the future, presuppose an initial definition of the labour process as well as an account of its position within the productive system and the movement of capital.
The labour process may be defined as that process by which raw materials or other inputs are transformed into products having a use-value. This process is a combination of three elements:
— human activity, or labour, which is set to work as labour power,
— the object (raw materials, unfinished products etc.) upon which labour acts,
— the means (means in general, usually in the form of tools or of ever more complex machinery) by which labour acts. Continue reading
In time, immutable rules of conduct enforced under progressively changing conditions should logically result in a muddle.
There are immense changes under way in our social economy, as everybody senses; but through this whole earthquake alteration of circumstance, our ideas about the structure of our society have hardly mellowed, much less developed in a rough tandem with events. The muddle is upon us, and the days grow shorter.
The approaching crisis has been occasioned by the awful advance of technology; for the technology which has not been prepared for (or is not soon accommodated socially) is no blessing at all, but the deepest ironic disaster of the human race. The human being today stands poised to be destroyed by his primary biological blessing—his propensity to develop and his capacity to use technique: there is a direct line from the prehensile thumb to the nuclear bomb.
The political essence of the approaching crisis is that we have not been able to make our great power felt by non-military means, either at home or abroad. The domestic source of this impotence derives, for example, from such ritualistic activities as budget-balancing, devotion to the supposed stability of the dollar, fear of inflation (or federal action to forestall it), and accompanying under-use of productive facility and talent. Under-use and mis-allocation of our great industrial and technological power, except under and by virtue of military purpose, flow directly from the predominant bookkeeping considerations which go by the names of money, profit, price, return on investment, etc.—that is, existing property rights, all of which and the system comprising which, I will here call “paper.” Taken as seriously and devoutly as it has been and still is today, the paper system is inadequate to insure full production at home and to fight the cold war on non-military terms. So this is the nature of the domestic crisis: we must achieve a political posture whereby we can take the Paper Economy less seriously in order to be able to modify it according to non-paper considerations. If we fail to do this, we will surely forsake the promise of the future and also fail in the cold war. Or worse, we will trap ourselves into fighting it out on military grounds, which could well be the end of all of us. Continue reading
By an industrial relations system I mean the whole pattern of rules and relationships which have been developed by a society to get its work done. Such a system exists to deal with those basic “labour” problems that any society must solve reasonably well if it is going to survive. These are the problems of getting and keeping a labour force, of training it in appropriate skills, of organizing it efficiently and motivating it effectively. These requirements amount to the same basic problems as the economic theorist’s: the allocation of scarce resources among possible uses in such a way as to maximize some conception of income or welfare. The industrial relations approach is more operational than the economist’s, however, in the sense that it points towards the complex of human groups and group interests that are involved rather than impersonal forces.
An important component of an industrial relations system is the relevant legal system — the laws and the way that courts apply them. However, an industrial relations system must be understood to include much more than this. As well as laws it is governed by customs, and the attitudes and habitual behaviour of various categories of workers, of employers or managers, and of those who administer government policy. By the same token, the letter of the law can give a thoroughly false conception, since it is notoriously subject to great differences in interpretation and enforcement, depending on public and judicial opinion.
Though the concept of an industrial relations system is applicable to any kind of society, it was devised essentially (about 15 years ago by some American scholars) as a means of viewing and comparing contemporary industrialized countries. Thus, since the technical requirements of industrial production are much the same in the United States and the Soviet Union, and the life styles and outlooks to which the industrial labour forces are conditioned must therefore also be similar, the two countries are forced to have far more in common because of their industrial relations systems than differences because of their ideologies. Personally, I do not ﬁnd this view very convincing. I do think it valid, however, to compare the industrial relations systems of Canada, the United States, and Britain, in view of the large amount of common background. Continue reading
This discussion of capital grows out of investigation of the history of labour in Canada. Four major systems of organizing labour for the production of goods may be distinguished in the course of Canadian history. Each of these involved its peculiar methods of production, of organizing the labour market, and its characteristic attitudes of employers and employees. The change from one system to another is what is meant by economic development in this paper. The questions inevitably arise, why a period features one type of labour organization rather than another and why one system is displaced by another. These questions have led to concern with capital accumulation, importation, and investment, for it would appear that the availability and uses of capital are crucial to the answers. The role of capital is important, no doubt, to other fields of study as well. Many useful things about capital have been said by Canadian scholars, but no broad and coherent review of the whole subject appears to exist. The present is an exploratory paper, covering approximately two of the stages of development remarked above, and the change from one to the other. Continue reading
It has been the custom of economists since the Mercantilists to assume the existence of a capitalistic labour market. It appears that this abstraction was adopted, not from ignorance of labour conditions—Malthus, who sponsored the bleakest model of a labour market, after all possessed exceptional knowledge of contemporary social conditions—but because it simplified the economists’ main task, as they conceived it, of expounding how a capitalist economy works. The abstraction had the disadvantage, however, of diverting attention from how a capitalistic labour market might develop.1 This question, besides its historical and sociological interest, is relevant to the study of labour markets, and of “economic development.” Yet, in Canada, it has received only brief attention.2 This paper proposes a more detailed view of how our capitalistic labour market arose. Continue reading