The game is afoot. A high stakes game. A game in the neighborhood of 1,000 billion dollars. Government dollars. Taxpayer dollars. The bail out of Wall Street – or call it a rescue package – is the new game in town. And Corporate Accountants are scurrying around looking for the best possible outcome for their company. That is their job.
Certified Public Accountants are in high demand. A CPA is more than a mere bookkeeper. CPA’s are much like attorneys – they interpret tax law, financial law, corporate tax law – they read the regulations and look for loopholes. That is their job.
Most of these accountants have higher education degrees – and sadly – most of them have little understanding of the ethics taught in the humanities. Their understanding of ethics is associated with interpretation of written law.
This writer worked in finance and information technology for twenty seven years. Most of the work was in health care finance – in the start up years of medicare and the medicare reimbursement revolution of the Reagan years. Our job was viewed as a game between us and the Government Auditors. We were all of the financial conservative ilk. We were taxpayers as much as anyone else – but our job was to maximize revenues from Government contracts. Annual bonuses were dependent on our ability to raise the cash. Simple arithmetic.
We searched the written regulations, looking for obscure passages to justify particular accounting practices. The Government tax accountants were doing the same thing – looking for passages to deny us money. That was the game.
When the auditors came to town to reconcile our books, they came armed with CPA’s and technology specialists. When they challenged our accounting practice we produced the obscure passages as defense. The auditors would huddle around their table, studying our interpretation. Then they would rule. Up or down. If they ruled against us we paid them money. If they ruled in our favor then they would pay us money. There were appeal processes – but they were seldom used. This was a war of the foot soldiers of finance. These soldiers debated government regulations in the back rooms of corporate accounting departments.
When our interpretation won the day the auditors would go back to Washington to recommend changes in the regulations to close the loophole – congress would act, changing the law. The game would begin again. New laws presented new loopholes. Our job was to find the loopholes – it was not criminal or corrupt – just a job.
Today we can only imagine the backroom deals being struck. An ethical corporate accountant is one who maximizes revenue for his employer – within the context of law. The single driving ethic was always tied to revenue – this may sound corrupt – but that is the game.
The game is defined by human nature in the context of capitalism.
No one should be misled by the current talk about ‘proper oversight’ of the government bailout of Wall Street. The corporate accountants and lawyers do not work for the taxpayer – their understanding of ethics is tied to their understanding of their job – which is to maximize revenue for their employer.
Games of interpretation will be played. That is just the way it works. The end result of this Wall Street bailout will be dependent on the ethical understanding of the Secretary of the Treasury. And of the ethical understanding of the government employees assigned to monitor the money.
The game is afoot.