Making imaginary worlds real: The case of expensing employee stock options
West [West, B. (2003). Professionalism and accounting rules. London: Routledge] and Chambers [Chambers, R. J. (1966). Accounting evaluation and economic behavior. Houston: Scholars Book Company] have provocatively argued that financial reporting has reached a state of near-total incoherence. In this paper, we argue that a source of this incoherence is the transformation of the US accounting academy into a sub-discipline of financial economics, a transformation in which accounting became a servant of the imaginary world of neoclassical economics. After noting the unusually prominent role of rules within the accounting profession, we describe the displacement of accounting's centuries-old root metaphor of accountability by the metaphor of information usefulness, and situate that displacement within neoliberalism, a broader political movement that arose after World War II. Finally, we use SFAS 123R, the recently issued stock option standard, as a case study of the incoherence that West and Chambers assert. Through various issues - such as reflexivity, theory paradox, and unexplained questions of responsibility - we demonstrate the logical inconsistencies involved in SFAS 123F. The incoherence of stock option reporting rules raises serious questions about the information metaphor as a foundation for either individual rules or the standard setting process. The Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) attempts to make the imaginary world of neoclassical economics real have resulted in rules which are not defensible.
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