The human condition is characterized by periodic swings between lawless permissiveness at one extreme and uncompromising rigidity at the other. Whenever one dominates it falls victim to corrective processes that, in turn, become excessive. Sanity is restored only when the pendulum returns, even briefly, to a position somewhere between. Abuses of vulnerable members of society and underprivileged minorities were rife throughout the last century and protective remedies were more than warranted. A countervailing problem arises, however, every time those charged with implementation go too far and fail to distinguish means from ends. It is exacerbated by supporting technologies that, for example, facilitate anti-crime surveillance yet finish up instilling a paranoid mindset in a public who see Britain as a society plagued by vindictive and powerful bureaucrats. It’s infectious too. A few weeks ago a 50 year-old man in Gloucester was compelled to give up his life-long hobby of bus-spotting after being harassed by the public, bus drivers and the police for taking photographs of buses. He has been accused of being a terrorist and a paedophile, and has had to stand by while his name was run through the police database. Distrust breeds distrust.
The EUtopian bandwagon rolls on regardless
The syndrome of not knowing where to stop has a parallel in the European constitution, now dead in the water after the Irish “No” vote, but threatening to be resurrected by zealots determined to create a bureaucratic super-state and end what remains of the independence of member nations. At the other, equally irrational, extremity are those who just want to get out, but most would favour membership based on the trade agreements we all believed we were signing up to when we joined, plus common security and environmental policies. They would draw the line there, and exclude EU control over monetary policy, foreign affairs, defence and justice system. Why does the debate always descend into a battle of all-or-nothing? The Irish are emphatically pro-Europe, but equally opposed to EU’s bullying aspirations to take on the trappings of statehood – its own president, a global diplomatic service and, eventually, its own army. The schism is highlighted by official reactions to the “No” vote, ranging from ignoring it, as if it never happened, to marginalizing the Irish and carrying on regardless. Fanaticism breeds its own brand of logic. Try this: the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, declared that “the ratification process must continue because the reform of the EU is important for citizens, for democracy and for transparency”. Get that? The reason the EU is trashing the verdict of the Irish people is “for democracy”.
Time to reinstate some sane accounting
Closer to home, accounting technocrats now prescribe an information overkill so excessive, and its meaning so obscured, that corporate financial reporting has become a victim of its own linguistic mire. It is incomprehensible to those it presumes to serve. The need for independent standard-setting was recognized 40 years ago when statutory requirements were ill-defined and permissive, inviting abuse. Accounts were doctored by creative use of policies to paint a picture that misrepresented reality. But the lengthy remedial process has been stretched way beyond its original brief, which was to strengthen the objective of true and fair reporting by formulating rules to which accounting policies should conform, while acknowledging the inescapable subjectivity of accounting measurement. What an array of pretentious nonsense it has become. As Sir David Tweedie put it in a recent interview: “Accounting isn’t rocket science. That’s what upsets me about the present system. I believe the average audit partner can’t do an audit without referring to the people in the technical department and probably sometimes the specialist department within the technical department. Well, that’s crazy – and we’ve just got to get accounting back to the profession.” Anyone brave enough to read the130 pages of IFRS 2 will sympathise. It is a classic case of oh-so-clever, oh-so-meaningless accounting – even Sir David concedes it’s a good example of a bad standard. The abuse of unreported gains on share-based payments to executives could have been addressed by additional disclosure rather than adopting an unintelligible American solution. Somewhere between opposing extremities of doing nothing and doing everything lie moderation, accommodation, compromise. Given that perfection is not available in the real world, let’s find a house of political correction for the purists and lock them all up. Then we can get on with life and all its imperfections. _______________________________________________________________________