Conclusion

Open book accounting is an aspiration, not a reality. It is technically achievable, in that accounting systems can be built to permit it, but there are huge cultural, commercial and legal obstacles to its adoption – and not insignificant technical ones, despite its conceptual simplicity. It is, nevertheless, an aspiration towards which those who believe that transparency is the best servant of accountability should be working.

The commercial obstacles to open-book accounting are fewest, and the immediate benefits of adoption greatest, in the not-for-profit sector, which is where – when openable systems are available – we should expect to see it first deployed. Open and transparent government would be greatly advanced by its adoption in the public sector, but scale, inertia and vested interests mean that progress there is not likely any time soon.

For its own health, capitalism needs to embrace the pursuit of trust through transparency, and open book accounting is one of the many techniques that can help build that open trust, but – except for enterprises choosing to adopt openness as a commercial strategy – widespread adoption is unlikely without enforcement by regulation.

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