When Debit=Credit. The Balance Constraint in Bookkeeping, its Causes and Consequences for Accounting
42 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 12, 2020
This paper studies the balance constraint (debit=credit) in bookkeeping, its causes and its consequences for accounting. Balance in the ledger is shown to: 1) imply balance in journal entries and vice versa; 2) link the value definitions in the earnings statement and balance sheet; 3) have direct implications for valuation puzzles encountered in accounting, like accounting for OCI or stock-based compensation, and the difference between earnings or balance-sheet approaches to valuation. These system-wide effects on accounting highlight a design question: why do we have the balance constraint in bookkeeping? Backward-engineering shows 6 axioms that logically lead to double-entry bookkeeping. The balance constraint follows from the existence of a residual account: owner’s equity. A class of equivalently powerful record keeping systems is shown to exist. These systems use double-entry bookkeeping without the monetary-unit assumption and can be used to record other outputs of the organization, like societal impact. These systems can be implemented in relational databases, a blockchain, or a different technology all together. The discussion covers links with other mathematical descriptions of bookkeeping and potential avenues for future research in the mathematics of bookkeeping.
Keywords: Axioms for bookkeeping, duality, bookkeeping system design, mathematics of record keeping.
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