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Calculating profit: A historical perspective on the development of capitalism

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  • Toms, J.S.

Abstract

The paper introduces the notion of different methods of calculating and analysing profitability as signatures of capitalism at different stages of development. Its point of departure is Bryer's thesis of the capitalist mentality, which is subject to theoretical and empirical critique and developed in new directions. Interactions between the development of the productive forces and the socialisation of capital ownership jointly impact on these signatures, such that profit calculations are historically contingent. Aspects of feudalism, particularly restrictions on usury impacted upon accounting calculation, retarding their development. In the industrial revolution calculations reflected the scale and scope of specialised investment in plant, whilst the progressive socialisation of capital prompted a separate set of calculative practices. It was only in the 20th century, with the unification of large scale industry and finance capital that the modern notion of profitability as return on capital employed finally developed.

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  • Toms, J.S., 2010. "Calculating profit: A historical perspective on the development of capitalism," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 205-221, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:35:y:2010:i:2:p:205-221
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    1. Toms, Steven, 2005. "Financial control, managerial control and accountability: evidence from the British Cotton Industry, 1700-2000," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(7-8), pages 627-653.
    2. Michael C. Jensen, 2010. "The Modern Industrial Revolution, Exit, and the Failure of Internal Control Systems," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 22(1), pages 43-58.
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    5. Bryer, R. A., 1993. "The late nineteenth-century revolution in financial reporting: Accounting for the rise of investor or managerial capitalism?," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 18(7-8), pages 649-690.
    6. Toms, J. S., 1998. "The supply of and demand for accounting information in an unregulated market: Examples from the lancashire cotton mills, 1855-1914," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 217-238, February.
    7. Neal, Larry, 2000. "How it all began: the monetary and financial architecture of Europe during the first global capital markets, 1648 1815," Financial History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 7(02), pages 117-140, October.
    8. Zambon, Stefano & Zan, Luca, 2000. "Accounting relativism: the unstable relationship between income measurement and theories of the firm," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 25(8), pages 799-822, November.
    9. Jones, Haydn, 1985. "Accounting, Costing, and Cost Estimation in Welsh Industry," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 0, number 9780708308820.
    10. Bryer, R. A., 2005. "A Marxist accounting history of the British industrial revolution: a review of evidence and suggestions for research," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 25-65, January.
    11. Trevor Boyns & John Richard Edwards, 1997. "The Construction of Cost Accounting Systems in Britain to 1900: The Case of the Coal, Iron and Steel Industries," Business History, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(3), pages 1-29.
    12. Steve Toms & Mike Wright, 2002. "Corporate Governance, Strategy and Structure in British Business History, 1950-2000," Business History, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(3), pages 91-124.
    13. de Roover, Raymond, 1967. "The Scholastics, Usury, and Foreign Exchange," Business History Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(03), pages 257-271, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Yannick Lemarchand & Laure Pineau-Defois & Cheryl Mcwatters, 2011. "Comptes et récits de la maison Chaurand, retour sur les liens entre comptabilité et capitalisme," Post-Print hal-00650546, HAL.
    2. Toms, Steven & Shepherd, Alice, 2013. "Creative accounting in the British Industrial Revolution: Cotton manufacturers and the ‘Ten Hours’ Movement," MPRA Paper 51478, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Edwards, John Richard & Dean, Graeme & Clarke, Frank, 2009. "Merchants' accounts, performance assessment and decision making in mercantilist Britain," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(5), pages 551-570, July.
    4. Aysem Mert, 2012. "Partnerships and the Privatisation of Environmental Governance: On Myths, Forces of Nature and Other Inevitabilities," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 21(4), pages 475-498, November.
    5. Robertson, Jeffrey & Funnell, Warwick, 2012. "The Dutch East-India Company and accounting for social capital at the dawn of modern capitalism 1602–1623," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 37(5), pages 342-360.
    6. Gervais, Pierre, 2014. "Early modern merchant strategies and the historicization of market practices," economic sociology_the european electronic newsletter, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, vol. 15(3), pages 19-29.
    7. Toms, Steven & Fleischman, Richard K., 2015. "Accounting fundamentals and accounting change: Boulton & Watt and the Springfield Armory," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 1-20.
    8. Toms, Steven, 2014. "‘Cold, Calculating Political Economy’: Fixed costs, the Rate of Profit and the Length of the Working Day in the Factory Act Debates, 1832-1847," MPRA Paper 54408, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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