Accounting is a trade, but the history of accounting is a subject of disinterested history -- a liberal art. And the accountant who knows something about the history of accounting will be a better accountant. That knowledge pays off in the marketplace. Similarly, future lawyers benefit from learning about the philosophical aspects of the law, just as literature majors learn more about poetry by writing poems.
Judge Posner makes a similar point about legal education in The Problematics of Jurisprudence. The context in Menand suggests that accounting may indeed have been neglected as a subject of liberal inquiry (i.e., as a subject of disinterested literary, historical, and/or scientific theory) because of its rep as a trade.
My personal experience suggests this to be an accurate depiction of how accountants are educated. They were even more parochial in their interests and education than the physics and chemistry majors I rubbed elbows with as an undergrad and grad student.
Could this be part of the explanation for the repeated failures of our financial system? Many earlier posts on this blog have addressed the serious weaknesses of financial accounting theory as a basis for measuring and managing our finanical system. But others see the problems, as Northwestern, Chicago, and Stanford Law Schools have begun teaching accounting theory to their students, at least through electives.
It's the unsexy, quotidien words that carry the heavy baggage in language -- a lesson learned early by every patent litigator. Similarly, its the unsexy, quotidien rules of accounting that move the cash-flows that represent the very life blood of our economy.
Click the accounting category at right for earlier posts. A fascinating historical fact, which I believe is not without larger significance, is that both a patent system and double-entry bookeeping were adopted around the same time in Venice in the 15th Century.