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Bob Burnett Headshot

Who Killed the Economy? Accounting Parasites

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As the U.S. economy stagnates and 14 million Americans remain unemployed, Washington politicians play familiar blame games. Republicans believe our problems stem from too much government and claim the economy would right itself if there were fewer taxes and regulations. Democrats assert the economy failed because of faulty government that permitted egregious corporate behavior and promoted economic inequality. But the real culprit lies deep within the bowels of modern corporations: parasitic accountants who have subverted America's entrepreneurial spirit and jeopardized the common good.

In FORBES magazine, management consultant Steve Denning noted that DELL Computer, because of nearsighted financial advice, gave itself away to its Taiwanese supplier:

ASUSTeK came to Dell with an interesting value proposition: 'We've been doing a good job making [circuit] boards. Why don't you let us make the motherboard for you?' ... Dell accepted the proposal because from a perspective of making money, it made sense: Dell's revenues were unaffected and its profits improved significantly... ASUSTeK took over the motherboard, the assembly of the computer, the management of the supply chain and the design of the computer. In each case Dell accepted the proposal because from a perspective of making money, it made sense: Dell's revenues were unaffected and its profits improved significantly. However, the next time ASUSTeK came back, it wasn't to talk to Dell. It was to talk to Best Buy and other retailers to tell them that they could offer them their own brand or any brand PC for 20% lower cost.

Like most American corporate accountants, DELL's financial people had a simplistic, narrow objective: do whatever would improve the current quarter's bottom line. Because accountants don't have a strategic perspective, DELL's number crunchers didn't realize the cumulative debilitating impact of the ASUSTeK transactions. Denning observed, "Decades of outsourcing manufacturing have left U.S. industry without the means to invent the next generation of high-tech products that are key to rebuilding its economy." Parasitic accountants have neutered our entrepreneurs.

But it's not only high-tech companies that are infected by these parasites; American corporations from all sectors have been hypnotized by the promise of short-term profits. It's the conventional "wisdom" that accountants and executives are taught in business school. This dysfunctional perspective is reinforced by contemporary corporate monoculture where employees live in a bubble, log obscene hours, and vacation with their co-workers. As a consequence giant corporations are dogmatically insular with their own warped code of ethics and worldview.

Corporate accountants' dogmatic focus on profitability drives out humanity. There is no room for entrepreneurial creativity, much less the wellbeing of the larger community or the "common good."

This parasitic perspective caused commercial lenders to issue sub-prime mortgages beginning in the late nineties and continuing until the housing credit bubble burst in 2007. In 2005 the majority of housing loans made by lenders such as Countrywide Financial and Washington Mutual were "interest only" back by little or no documentation -- so called NINJA loans. Accountants advised financial-industry executives they could improve profitability by selling sub-prime (adjustable rate) mortgages and bundling them into mortgage-backed securities. Later the same parasites told executives they could further improve profitability by decreasing the loan documentation requirements.

In one industry after another we find examples where nearsighted pursuit of profits has trumped common sense and devastated the common good. Most California private timberland is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries that advocates clearcutting where all trees in a given area are cut down, the valuable timber hauled away, the residue burned, and the ground scraped bare and sprayed with herbicides. This process makes more money for SIERRA PACIFIC but it passes on environmental damage to the public and drastically diminishes the amount and quality of the watershed.

Most public utilities have a similar narrow focus on profits at the expense of the common good. For example, TECO Energy operates the massively polluting Big Bend power plant in Apollo Beach, Florida, because it has low operating costs due to its construction before modern standards for pollution control.

The advent of accounting parasites is the ultimate triumph of the nerd: hundreds of thousands of corporate finance people who care more about numbers than they do humanity. A culture of parasites who think nothing of firing workers, or stripping them of their benefits, in the name of profitability,

Accounting parasites have neutered our entrepreneurs, sucked the humanity out of corporate culture and ruined the economy. They don't understand that the U.S. consumer economy will not function properly unless there is full employment.

Fixing the U.S. economy doesn't mean replacing capitalism with socialism -- that would bring another set of equally dire problems. The solution first requires taking parasitic accountants out of the corporate driver seat and replacing them with entrepreneurs -- like the late Steve Jobs. And second, replacing the current corporate ethics and the relentless emphasis on profitability, with values that consider both workers and the environment; an ethical system that recognizes the American economy won't function unless we all have a stake in it.