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The history of accounting and the transition to capitalism in England. Part two: evidence



An earlier paper (Part one) argued that to appreciate the social significance of accounting today we must understand its ideas and techniques as products and producers of history. It explained the importance of Weber and Marx's theories of the transition to capitalism to historians of accounting. Weber's use of accounting as an ideal-typical representation of calculative mentalities enabled him to avoid economic determinism. However, he presupposed the appearance of the capitalist 'spirit', and his understanding of modern accounting was inferior to Marx's. The paper argued that translating Marx's theory into a history of accounting makes it testable. The theory includes class conflict in trade and in agriculture, and calculative mentalities, as prime movers. It says the calculative mentality of modern capitalism, the maximization of the rate of return on capital employed in production, emerged from the historical interaction of capitalistic mentalities in agriculture and trade. From the middle of the sixteenth century landed and mercantile wealth pooled their capital in international trade. Following social conflict culminating in the bourgeois revolution of the mid-seventeenth century, the rate of return on capital became the dominant economic ethic. Capital from international trade flowed back onto the land, bringing with it the capitalistic rate of return mentality. Harnessing this to capitalistic farming produced the modern capitalist mentality. In this paper I argue that the history of accounting during the English agricultural, commercial, and bourgeois revolutions, is consistent with this theory. The paper examines evidence from farmers' accounts from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century and agricultural texts and literature, and evidence on merchant accounting from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The centrepiece is a case study of the development of accounting in the English East India Company from 1600 to 1657. The paper concludes by outlining the importance of accounting history and the need for archival research. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved

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