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Ball and Brown

In: Social Issues

Submitted By sdost01
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lustrated by the argument that income numbers cannot be defined sub- stantively, that they lack "meaning" and are therefore of doubtful utility.' The argument stems in part from the patchwork development of account- * University of Chicago. t University of Western Australia. The authors are indebted to the participants in the Workshop in Accounting Research at the Univer- sity of Chicago, Professor Myron Scholes, and Messrs. Owen Hewett and Ian Watts. 1 Versions of this particular argument appear in Canning (1929); Gilman (1939); Paton and Littleton (1940); Vatter (1947), Ch. 2; Edwards and Bell (1961), Ch. 1; Chambers (1964), pp. 267-68; Chambers (1966), pp. 4 and 102; Lim (1966), esp. pp. 645 and 649; Chambers (1967), pp. 745-55; Ijiri (1967), Ch. 6, esp. pp. 120-31; and Sterling (1967), p. 65. 159
160 JOURNAL OF ACCOUNTING RESEARCH, AUTUMN, 1968 ing practices to meet new situations as they arise. Accountants have had to deal with consolidations, leases, mergers, research and development, price- level changes, and taxation charges, to name just a few problem areas. Because accounting lacks an all-embracing theoretical framework, dissimi- larities in practices have evolved. As a consequence, net income is an ag- gregate of components which are not homogeneous. It is thus alleged to be a "meaningless" figure, not unlike the difference between twenty-seven tables and eight chairs. Under this view, net income can be defined only as the result of the application of a set of procedures { X1, X2, ... } to a set of events { Y1, Y2, -.. } with no other definitive substantive meaning at all. Canning observes: What is set out as a measure of net income can never be supposed to be a fact in any sense at all except that it is the figure that results when the accountant has finished applying the procedures which he adopts.2 The value of analytical attempts to develop…...

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