Don’t Mistake Accounting for Economics



There’s one mistake that’s particularly common and damaging. Too many observers try to derive economic principles from accounting principles. This is flat-out wrong. The reason is simple: Economics is not accounting. Economists try to understand the causal relationships in commerce and government. Accountants document stocks and flows in an orderly fashion. Economics obviously makes use of accounting, and accounting can be improved through knowledge of economics, but they’re not the same thing.

The most egregious abuses of economics that we see today start with an accounting identity — a true statement or equation — but end with an absurd economic claim. Importantly, an identity is true by construction. Based on the definitions of the variables, the formulation must be so. But it doesn’t say anything about the real world. It certainly doesn’t capture the causal relationships among those variables.

Author(s): Alexander William Salter

Publication Date: 9 April 2021

Publication Site: National Review