The discipline of accountancy goes back to the earliest years of humanity. The Sumerian clay tablets on which we first wrote stuff down – and from which practices we eventually learned to read and write – were developed for accounting records. On the other side of the world, the Incas, who had not acquired literacy by the time the Spaniards arrived, still kept accounting records – by tying knots in little strands of wool – a practice that was probably too cumbersome to evolve into expressive writing.
We have moved a long way from clay tablets and strands of wool, but the primary problem financial accounting aims to solve remains: recording who owes whom how much and for what. As ownership of productive assets became more complex, and collective, in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, so the question of debt and ownership evolved, but the double-entry algebra codified by Luca Pacioli in the fifteenth century was so simple and so elegant – because it applies to finance the same underlying symmetry that Newton identified in physics as his third Law of motion – that it retains its central utility today.
I suggest that in the networked age, those double-entry records of debt and commerce should be open to public perusal, through the practice of open-book accounting in public on the Internet, to help build trust through transparency.