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What does the phrase "accounting logic" mean, particularly as used in the new book Monoculture?
July 7, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading the book Monoculture by FS Michaels, which describes how what the author calls "the economic story," which she sees as dominant in our culture and as having replaced earlier dominant stories rooted in religion and science, is shaping people's work, communities, education, and relationships. In the book, Michaels talks about how "as the economic story spreads to government, a language based on economics develops along with a new way of thinking and reasoning about what goes on in government -- a kind of accounting logic. That accounting logic makes two assumptions: first, that anything and everything your government does can be assessed in terms of what value is added, and second, that the value added can be linked to how much money is spent on the activity in the first place." Etc. My question is: in this context, what does the phrase "accounting logic" mean?

I have Googled, but Google doesn't really help. I'm curious: Is "accounting logic" a commonly-used industry term, or is it something Michaels coined herself? Is it a narrow industry phrase, maybe, that Michaels is expanding past its original usage to mean something like 'the worldview that would logically be expected to arise out of seeing the world mainly through a numbers-based lens"?

Don't know anything about accounting, don't have any financial training. If you can help, I'd appreciate it.
posted by Susan PG to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not an accountant, I'm a bookkeeper. And I'm not trained in economics. And I haven't read the book.

But it seems to me that the author is talking about a particular mindset, rather than a specific theory or technique. The mindset is one that tries to quantify everything and if possible put a dollar value on everything.

For example - forests are not made up of trees and ecological systems and nonhuman communities, but of board feet and potential recreation area. Humans are not people with families, feelings, consciences, but are mere consumers, or unemployed, or retired, etc.
posted by natteringnabob at 9:19 AM on July 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I also haven't read this book either, but I think the root assumption behind the 'accounting logic' is described much more fully as 'imposing legibility.' Venkat Rao has a good blog post about a seminal book on this topic here.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:43 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


That accounting logic makes two assumptions: first, that anything and everything your government does can be assessed in terms of what value is added, and second, that the value added can be linked to how much money is spent on the activity in the first place.

I think that this is actually a definition of "accounting logic." It's a logic (and by "logic" I think he means something very general: a way of reasoning aimed at arriving at conclusions), based on these two assumptions.

There's another idea at play here - the idea that value can be quantified in numerical terms -- which is even more fundamental an assumption than the two the author calls out.
posted by Miko at 4:26 PM on July 7, 2012


Max Weber (a bigshot founder-type in the social sciences) is all about this -- see here.
posted by cosmologinaut at 11:44 PM on July 7, 2012


In the same vein as Space Coyote's suggestion see James C Scott's fantastic work on how states (try to) impose legibility and impose what he calls a "high modernist" ideology. (He actually uses scientific forestry as an example like natteringnabob does)
posted by Wretch729 at 2:58 PM on July 11, 2012


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