February 28, 2017

"The Accountant Who Changed The World."



I'm thinking about accountants this morning — a propos of the Beattygate ploy of blaming the accountant — and wandered into this NPR piece:
Luca Pacioli was a monk, magician and lover of numbers. He discovered this special bookkeeping in Venice and was intrigued by it. In 1494, he wrote a huge math encyclopedia and included an instructional section on double-entry bookkeeping.

Thanks to the newly invented printing press, his book was mass produced and became a big hit. One of the first readers was Leonardo da Vinci, who at the time was painting The Last Supper. Pacioli's encyclopedia had a section on the mathematics of perspective painting which fascinated da Vinci.

"They were hanging out together.... I think they were probably lovers. They certainly spent a lot of time together, and definitely Luca Pacioli was there in the church when Leonardo da Vinci was there in the actual church when Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper," said [Jane Gleeson-White, author of "Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance"].
I know. Hollywood already made a movie called "The Accountant." It was not, however, about this monk.

74 comments:

Mary Martha said...

Are we just saying that all historical figures from the same time period were lovers now?

Quaestor said...

Luca Pacioli was a monk, magician and lover of numbers. He discovered this special bookkeeping in Venice and was intrigued by it.

NPR, eh? By the style, I would surmise it was My Weekly Reader.

Discovered is not an appropriate word in this context, given the history of double-entry bookkeeping.

The Drill SGT said...

@Mary Martha said...

Yep. Gays invented everything...

Sean Gleeson said...

"a section on the mathematics of perspective painting which fascinated da Vinci [sic]" I added the sic! Because it is. Sic, sic, sic! His name was Leonardo!

"They were hanging out together.... I think they were probably lovers." That's sick too. Defamation per se of both men. Dammit, National Review, what the hell happened to you?

Sean Gleeson said...

Oh! It was NPR. I misread it as NR. I retract my aspersions at National Review. Sorry.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Sean Gleeson said...

Defamation per se of both men.

Assumes facts not in evidence. Did anyone ever ask Leonardo what gender he identified as?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

And if Leonardo was gay, did the other turtles know?

tcrosse said...

Who invented the ploy of keeping two sets of books ? Another cis-gendered Italian ?

Freeman Hunt said...

A lot of modern historians must not have friends they don't sleep with.

Ann Althouse said...

"Are we just saying that all historical figures from the same time period were lovers now?"

No. Just that if they were in a room together, they had sexual intercourse.

Brando said...

"Pacioli's encyclopedia had a section on the mathematics of perspective painting which fascinated da Vinci."

Small pet peeve that isn't so small I can let it go because it eats me up inside--"da Vinci" was where the artist "Leonardo" was from. Calling him "da Vinci" is sort of like calling "Bob from Detroit" simply "from Detroit". Or calling Larry the Cable Guy simply "Mr. the Cable Guy" for that matter.

Known Unknown said...

""They were hanging out together.... I think they were probably lovers. They certainly spent a lot of time together, and definitely Luca Pacioli was there in the church when Leonardo da Vinci was there in the actual church when Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper,"

Read this again and tell me that the author has any grasp or understanding of the English language.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

They certainly spent a lot of time together, and definitely Luca Pacioli was there in the church when Leonardo da Vinci was there in the actual church when Leonardo da Vinci was painting "The Last Supper".

"The Last Supper" is NOT in a fucking church. It's in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. That's a fucking mess hall!!

NPR is evidently staffed with morons who can't even use commas correctly. No wonder the whole network is uniformly leftwing.

chickelit said...

Known Unknown said...Read this again and tell me that the author has any grasp or understanding of the English language.

The author at least knows what garners Oscars these days. Could the lovers in the hypothetical gay da Vinci film also be black?

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Actually Pacioli sounds a lot like The Accountant in the Ben Affect movie. They are autistic numbers guys with a few friends who can appreciate them.

Pacioli started a teacher employed by a wealthy merchant of Venice. Venice being the NYC of its day where world commerce came together.

But then when Pacioli was 45, another Italian from Genoa, turned it all over by Commanding a Spanish exploration fleet going to the West. And in another 150 years The Atlantic trade was king. And Venice became a City in California and a Casino in Neveda.

gspencer said...

"Luca Pacioli was a monk, magician and lover of numbers."

Accountants continue to act like magicians, for themselves, for their clients. Arthur Andersen & Co., a one-time big, big name among yesteryear's Big Eight, is no more, having worked its magic with Enron.

And don't think this magic has disappeared because of the Dodd-Frank Act or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. And the lies of accountants are not confined to the dreaded private sector. Almost all government entities lie through their teeth to bond holders and the taxpayers about their shenanigans. Governments' unfunded liabilities, for example, their all-too-generous pension plans saddled to the backs of unaware taxpayers, are a nightmare.

Freeman Hunt said...

They met, so Leonardo garnered a bone.

Oso Negro said...

I get so sick of the queer eye for the dead guy game.

buwaya said...

Pacioli has also been cited as an inventor of a slew of modernized printing fonts, so he was also partly responsible for the appearance of many European texts in print. IIRC he was used as a marketing mcguffin several times in the past for desktop publishing software PR campaigns.

NPR needs to be defunded. Or, at least, they should hire people who aren't gay.

Quaestor said...

In the 1400s, much of Europe was still using Roman numerals, and finding it really hard to easily add or subtract. (Try adding MCVI to XCIV.)

Nonsense. Adding and subtracting Roman numerals is quite easy as long as one doesn't try to impose the place value system on the calculation. Medieval accountants used abaci designed specifically for working in the Roman system and had little difficulty with their arithmetic. We moderns have problems simply because we don't understand the method. Some of us can decode a Roman number, such as a copyright date, but most cannot. But few have mastered the ancient art of calculating with such notations. The Hindu numeric system (often falsely attributed to the Muslims) is more convenient, but the ancient world accomplished much in the realm of higher mathematics without place value or a zero.

Anyone who believes the myth of the incalculable Roman number system should consider De Architectura by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.

(reposted with typo corrections)

Freeman Hunt said...

"You meet, you shag. That's what people do."

A hot tub in every history class.

Bruce Hayden said...

I discovered double entry bookkeeping after essentially completing a mathematics degree, and found it pretty elegant. One of my favorite stories in college was about an accounting test I took. The prof had the choice of giving me a 99 or a zero, since I had every answer correct, but reversed (I got a 99, of course). I was completely consistent throughout, which essentially made the (inadvertent) point that whether you have debits on the left and credits on the right, or the other way around, is completely irrelevant to the concept of double entry bookkeeping, and is, in the end, just a matter of convention. I think that Luca Paciol, as a mathematician, would have approved.

chickelit said...

Freeman Hunt said...They met, so Leonardo garnered a bone.

Cui bono?

buwaya said...

The gay thing is most certainly slander against a Christian monk of good reputation. That is ascribing to him grave sins and violations of his vows.

Quaestor said...

NPR needs to be defunded.

First, they need to be audited so the taxpayer can know the depth of their squanderings of the common weal.

Pacioli would smile.

Bruce Hayden said...

Sorry - I think that the last sentence should have been "I think that Luca Pacioli, as a mathematician, would have AGREED".

Raphael Ordoñez said...

"What Pacioli is known for today, though, is that tiny section of the book about accounting." To accountants, maybe. To me, a geometer, he was one of the great humanist mathematicians of the Renaissance, who wrote a book (Da divina proportione), beautifully illustrated by his friend Leonardo, about the golden ratio, proportion, and the Platonic solids. According to the Mathematics Genealogy Project, he's had more than 130 thousand academic descendants, one of whom is myself. Luca Pacioli may or may not have slept with men, but there's no denying that mathematics as a subject is quite traditional and conservative.

That painting, incidentally, depicts a rhombicuboctahedron half-filled with water and reflecting (from several different angles) a ducal palace. On the slate, Pacioli demonstrates a theorem from Euclid. A dodecahedron, one of the polyhedra constructed in Book XIII of the Elements, rests on one of Pacioli's texts. The person standing behind Pacioli may be Albrecht Durer, who wrote a treatise in mathematical perspective.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Hooray, something I know about! I read the book and recommend it: Amazon - Double Entry - How The Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance

I admit I don't remember the "gay sexual relationship w/Leonardo" subplot...but maybe I'm just mentally editing that out. It's certainly a good-enough story without that kind of lurid speculation. One part I liked was that the widespread adoption of the double entry method was in part due to the general dislike/distrust of negative numbers--there was a religious angle in that some thought negative numbers were evil! Another part that I remember was how guarded merchants were about their accounting practices and how that stopped firms from growing very large--Venice's common adoption of a system of accounting was a big deal not because it was a much better system (or not ONLY because of that) but because by getting everyone on the same system they realized network effects and all sorts of other positive externalities (ability to take on investors, expansion of credit opportunities/capital flow, etc). "Getting on the same page" is a big deal!

Anyway it's a good book on a really interesting topic.

chickelit said...

Albrecht Dürer's best know perspective.
At least they're erect hands.
Che bono!

Paddy O said...

They were lovers of numbers together.

Ken B said...

You used valet parking. When you leave the attendant brings the wrong car. Do you drive off with it? Later do you blame the attendant? Or your escort?

Jack Wayne said...

This is really good news. Pretty soon Thomas Jefferson will be outed as gay. So he wasn't boning Sally, amirite?

buwaya said...

If I were the Franciscan Minister General I would demand a retraction and an apology from NPR and the professor quoted, over the slander of their eminent member.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Pretty soon Thomas Jefferson will be outed as gay. So he wasn't boning Sally, amirite?"

Sally had a penis but identified as female.

buwaya said...

A correction re the status of Pacioli - the article is wrong, he was not a monk, I was fooled by the article. Never assume any sort of accuracy in these things, should be the rule, which I should know by now.
As a Franciscan of course he was a friar, not a monk.

Seeing Red said...

More cultural appropriation. Only Italians should be allowed to use modern accounting.

rehajm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rehajm said...

...which essentially made the (inadvertent) point that whether you have debits on the left and credits on the right, or the other way around, is completely irrelevant to the concept of double entry bookkeeping...

A reprint of 'George's Enhancement' to double entry accounting:

Once upon a time there was an accountant named George who worked at the same company in the same office for 30 years until he finally retired. George always kept his desk locked and carried the key with him, except that every morning, he would come in to work, sit down at his desk, unlock the desk, pull out the right hand drawer and look in the drawer. Then he would lock it up again and leave it locked until same time the next morning.

Everybody in the office wondered what it was that George was looking at, even the supervisor of the accounting section. So, when George retired and finally turned in his key, the chief accountant went in to finally see what it was that George had to look at every morning. All of the other accountants came to watch as the chief opened George's drawer.

There was a piece of paper taped to the bottom of the drawer and it said, "Debits by the window. Credits toward the door."

Ignorance is Bliss said...

buwaya said...

As a Franciscan of course he was a friar, not a monk.

Based on the intellectual qualities displayed in his writing, I would say he was a deep friar.

rhhardin said...

Amazon's double entry system seems to balance at zero at the moment.


There's a problem displaying some of your orders right now.
If you don't see the order you're looking for, try refreshing this page, or click "View order details" for that order.

You have not placed any orders in past 6 months.

stever said...

It starts out as a serious idea and ends up being just silly, obviously the continuity of the human race is a mystery

hawkeyedjb said...

"Arthur Andersen & Co., a one-time big, big name among yesteryear's Big Eight, is no more..."
They are no more, having asked one too many times the Accountants' Question: 'what would you like the answer to be?'

Early in my accountancy studies I learned that debits and credits are neither good nor bad, neither positive nor negative; they simply Are, and they reflect a balanced transaction. But the scandals and willful ruination of reputations from recent years have led some to think that accounting=trickery. But no, the Gods of the Account Book headings demand that the only equation that matters is Debits=Credits. (I learned later that the Gods of Finance are not the same as the Gods of Accounting, and that the two quarrel a lot)

Fernandinande said...

buwaya said...
The gay thing is most certainly slander against a Christian monk of good reputation. That is ascribing to him grave sins and violations of his vows.


Isn't that the whole point?

Ambrose said...

They'd just be two more dead white males - but wait, "I think they were lovers." Bonus points.....

buwaya said...

I used to work for Arthur Andersen (a correspondent firm, decades before the final scandal), specifically that part that became Andersen Consulting, and what today is Accenture. So it never actually disappeared, it actually thrived. Bicho malo nunca muere.

I was taking MBA classes at Manila's Jesuit university (the Ateneo) at the time (I completed my MBA in the US). I recall in Business Law we did the Philippine rules on conflicts of interest, which were strict and detailed (seeing the historical Philippine struggles with corruption, they tried to solve it by piling on laws and rules, to little effect), and I found it amusing that they were strongly against what my employer A.Andersen was up to, selling management consulting and IT services (what our lot did, I was in the management consulting side) to its audit clients, etc.

I had to retake the Business Law parts in the US and it was interesting to see that they were far less detailed and barely touched matters like conflicts of interest. I do also recall several Finance professors commenting independently on conflicts of interest on the matters of, for instance, securitizing real estate loans and the bond rating agencies (Moody's, S&P, Dun&Bradstreet, etc.). Twenty years later the chickens came home to roost.

buwaya said...

"Isn't that the whole point?'

I don't think so. I gather that they consider this homosexual allegation some sort of recommendation or compliment - "see, not only was this guy great for all his intellectual achievements, he was gay too!".
Its a mark of cultural blindness or perversity on the authors' part. The concept of sin, or religion, is beyond them.

Nyamujal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nyamujal said...

Luca Pacioli did change the world.
I recently finished Yuval Harari's "Sapiens" and he talks in detail about how financial innovations like accounting, LLC's, debt, etc helped make Europe a dominant colonial force. I recommend the book. Yuval's very Jared Diamondesque...

mr said...

"The Last Supper" is NOT in a fucking church. It's in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. That's a fucking mess hall!!

Well, that explains why they were lovers, then.

hombre said...

"They were hanging out together....I think they were probably lovers."

Without the LGBTQMNOP angle it just wouldn't be NPR. So essential to the coverage you know, i.e., lover of numbers = lover of dicks.

Balfegor said...

Re: buwaya:

I don't think so. I gather that they consider this homosexual allegation some sort of recommendation or compliment - "see, not only was this guy great for all his intellectual achievements, he was gay too!".
Its a mark of cultural blindness or perversity on the authors' part. The concept of sin, or religion, is beyond them
.

I think it's just an idle aside, reflecting, if anything, the speaker's inability to conceive of a close same-sex relationship that is not sexualised. Much as, in the past, people had difficulty believing in a close, non-familial, opposite-sex relationship that did not have some sexual component. To the extent there is a modern perception of the archetypal male as uncommunicative and closed off emotionally, this is a big part of why -- in the West today, that kind of emotional intimacy is read as homosexual, even if it's not sexual at all.

Fernandinande said...

buwaya said...
I gather that they consider this homosexual allegation some sort of recommendation or compliment - "see, not only was this guy great for all his intellectual achievements, he was gay too!".


There is that virtue signaling, but it's still insulting on a more fundamental level. I think very few people actually believe that being homosexual is good or desirable. (same for breaking solemn vows.) How often do you hear straight, or any, parents hope their kids are or become "gay" (or any LGBQWERTY), or attempt to make them so?

Bill said...

". . . I think they were probably lovers."

But of course. And why would someone with a hyphenated surname think otherwise?

Freeman Hunt said...

in the West today, that kind of emotional intimacy is read as homosexual, even if it's not sexual at all.

Because of this, male friendship is much better depicted in Hong Kong movies than in American movies.

Quaestor said...

A dodecahedron, one of the polyhedra constructed in Book XIII of the Elements, rests on one of Pacioli's texts.

Referring to Democritus Plato postulated that the atoms of the four elements each had a different characteristic shape. Atoms of Earth were hexahedrons, accounting for the solidity of stone when stacked face to face and the crumbliness of soil when aligned point to face. Air was the octahedron for reasons that escape me, while Fire was made of pointy, stabby tetrahedrons. Water flows if composed of tiny balls, thus its atoms were nearly spherical icosahedrons. Aristotle added a fifth element, the stuff of the heavens, the quintessence, which he associated with the dodecahedron, thus making it the most mysterious and ineffable of the Platonic solids.

Quaestor said...

How often do you hear straight, or any, parents hope their kids are or become "gay" (or any LGBQWERTY), or attempt to make them so?

Not very often. However, secular sainthood must of necessity be a rarity.

Professional lady said...

My husband's 94 year old aunt has lived with her female roommate for probably 50 plus years. They simply share an apartment and expenses and keep each other company. Not long ago Aunt told my husband how she had to correct someone who just assumed they were lesbian partners. In her heyday, people wouldn't have automatically assumed that.

David said...

If Hollywood made it they would call it "Double Entry" and have a smirky innuendo laden promotion.

David said...

Never heard of this guy before. Interesting.

JaimeRoberto said...

In the future everyone from the past will have been gay for 15 minutes.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Professional lady said...

In her heyday, people wouldn't have automatically assumed that.

In our heyday, people wouldn't have automatically assumed that.

wildswan said...

This NPR story is an example of cultural appropriation without cultural comprehension.

The double entry system was brought to Italy from Algeria by Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa around 1200. He also introduced "Arabic numbers" which were clearly recognized at the time as originating in India and spread from there by Islamic traders to Algeria where Fibonacci, a Pisan trader, found them being used and brought the system to Italy. Fibonacci also introduced "Fibonacci numbers." His discoveries were written in handwritten books around 1205. In 1445 during the Renaissance Luca Pacioli, Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer used Fibonacci's discoveries to help build their new system of painting in which perspective and the Golden ratio were intricately interwoven. Their books were printed so in that sense "they spread" this knowledge. But the NPR story is "cultural appropriation" since it leaves out Arabs and Hindus. And Fibonacci, Pacioli, Da Vinci and Durer were far more interesting and more important in the history of art and mathematics than NPR is able to comprehend. That history is about far more than speculation about two dead white males in room 700 years ago which, as was well said, is all that NPR is able to think about.

D. B. Light said...

If this subject interests you, you might enjoy Niall Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money" available on Youtube. It's a nice non-technical introduction to the subject.

Michael said...

Double entry bookkeeping was a bigger deal than that. It enabled the management and valuation of an enterprise as distinct from its creditors and investors, and thereby the development of modern market capitalism. (For better and worse, of course, but mostly better - how are things in Venezuela these days?)

Static Ping said...

They have been trying to make Leonardo gay for quite some time now. The evidence thereof is limited, to say the least. Last I checked on the issue, which was some time ago, there was the "he's obviously gay" camp and the "he had an illegitimate child and regularly went to brothels so nuh-uh" camp. There's basically nothing to work with so whatever.

wildswan said...

Of course, it may turn out that the disastrous Academy Awards show fixes forever in American culture the picture of Hollywood spouting instructions to the American people to be shortly followed by Hollywood bumbling about - unable to comprehend one simple sentence "Best Actress-LaLa Land", and then unable to handle to ensuing problems in real time.

And what was the cause of the Great Disaster? Was it something hard - a secret formula that must be stolen from galactic overlords by daring rebels ready to sacrifice their lives? or a e-mail with attachments sent at huge personal risk from the Deep State to a bold reporter?

No, it was an accountant ("An Accountant Who Changed the World) who picked up the wrong envelope from the wrong pile and without checking the writing on the outside which clearly indicated that this was the wrong envelope handed it to two Hollywood stars who then clearly showed that they were unable to comprehend what they read or to handle a situation without a swarm of producers. So why listen to Hollywood stars on anything that matters? They are just going to uncomprehendingly read the envelope that is handed to them and if that makes something bad happen they won't know what to do except stand about and smile.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The best thing about the creation of double entry accounting and accounting in general is that people were all now basically "on the same page". Standardized. Meaning that you could look at a businesses books and know what was going on and be able to make some informed decisions.

All companies using the same methodology made it so much easier to communicate.

Today we use GAAP for the same reasons.

Michael K said...

The double entry system was brought to Italy from Algeria by Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa around 1200.

I thought that was true but am too lazy to look it up again.

Thanks.

The Cracker Emcee said...

" Only Italians should be allowed to use modern accounting."

And Greeks. And Democrats.

gadfly said...

The history of accounting is as old as civilization, among the most important professions in economic and cultural development, and fascinating. That’s right, fascinating! Accountants invented writing, developed money and banking, innovated the double entry bookkeeping system that fueled the Italian Renaissance, were needed by Industrial Revolution inventors and entrepreneurs for survival, helped develop the capital markets necessary for big business so essential for capitalism, turned into a profession that brought credibility for complex business practices that sparked the economic boom of the 20th century, and are central to the information revolution that is now transforming the global economy.~Gary Giroux: A Short History of Accounting & Business

We accountants work hard to overcome our green eyeshades. What's with the green eyeshade image?

PaoloP said...

"I think they were probably lovers." A thought based on nothing, of course. The modern intellectual can't think that monks and artists from the very Christian XV century had other values and perspectives than his.

Daniel Jackson said...

Wildswan is correct: Leonardo Bonacci (aka Fibonacci) introduced the Hindu-Arabic numerical arithmetic system and calculation process to "Europe" in his work, LIBER ABACI (book of calculation) in 1202. He wrote a second draft, less dense, in 1228. Whether or not he actually introduced double entry accounting, I do not know. His work, however, clearly showed the ease of numerical calculation over other systems that the MODUS INDORUM was quickly assimilated by "Europeans" over the next several generations.

What makes this story truly sad is that NPR did a feature story on Leonardo Bonacci in 2011: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/16/137845241/fibonaccis-numbers-the-man-behind-the-math

"And though it doesn't necessarily sound like an overnight best-seller, it was a smash hit. Liber Abaci introduced practical uses for the Arabic numerals 0 through 9 to Western Europe. The book revolutionized commerce, banking, science and technology and established the basis of modern arithmetic, algebra and other disciplines."

Okay. I change my mind: it is truly pathetic that NPR cannot audit its own publications to find out what it is supposed to know.

The NPR article is an interview with Keith Devlin who wrote The Man of Numbers, a selection of which was published in Scientific American here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-man-of-numbers-fibona/. It is wonderful to see this guy's work takes the starch out of the recent NPR flame on accounting.

I mean, they can't even do a proper search on Wikipedia?