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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The type of finance textbooks that we really need

While reading Stephen Bragg's Wiley US GAAP 2011 edition, I noticed that his book
  1. presents meaningful and realistic examples guiding users in the application of GAAP to complex fact situations that must be dealt with in the real world practice of accounting
  2. Explains the theory of GAAP in sufficient detail to serve as a valuable adjunct to accounting textbooks. One does not need any other 'academic' book alongside.
  3. Much more than merely a reiteration of currently promulgated GAAP, it provides the user with the underlying conceptual bases for the rules, in order to facilitate the process of reasoning by analogy that is so necessary in dealing with the complicated, fast-changing world of commercial arrangements and transaction structures.  
It is the third point which is the focus of this post. While umpteen textbooks give practical examples and clarify theory, very few give that deep insight into 'why' the rules were framed. While this may not be necessary in physical sciences where laws do not change, that insight is necessary while studying man-made rules which can change with the stroke of a pen.  As the 'old school' of lawyers, accountants and other advisory professionals have discovered to their cost, there are frequent paradigm shifts. Whether it be the shift from tangible to intangible assets, and the consequential shift from book value to fair value, or the shift from court law to arbitration with the resultant choice of convenient forums/institutions, changes can happen rapidly. And one needs to be alert for that small signal indicating flux.

Finance goes through cycles, shifts and fads, which have significant resemblances. A financial history primer which covers this reasoning by analogy, is therefore worth its weight in gold.

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