Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Historical Cost Mistake

There are three distinct economic items in the economy:

1. Variable real value non-monetary items
2. Monetary items
3. Constant real value non-monetary items

Variable real value items

The first economic items were variable real value items. Their real values were determined by supply and demand. Their values were not yet expressed in terms of money because money has not yet been invented at that time.

The first economies functioned without money. They were barter economies. People bartered economic items they possessed or produced in excess of their own personal needs for other products they desired from other people who had an excess of the products they in turn possessed or produced.

There was no money and no double entry accounting model at that time. There was no stable measuring unit assumption. There were no historical cost items. There was no inflation because there was no money. There was no medium of exchange. There was no monetary unit of account. There were no financial reports: no profit and loss accounts and no balance sheets. There was no Consumer Price Index. There were no nominal monetary units since there was no money and there were no units of constant purchasing power because there was no CPI.

There were no monetary items and no constant items. There were only variable items.


Money was then invented over a long period of time. Eventually money came to fulfil the following three functions:

a. Medium of exchange
b. Store of value
c. Unit of account

At that stage there were two distinct economic items in the economy: variable items and monetary items.

Variable items were defined in monetary terms after the invention of money, since money came to be used as the basic unit of account in the economy. The economy was divided in the monetary economy and the non-monetary or real economy. There were monetary items and non-monetary items.

Monetary items

Monetary items are money held and items with an underlying monetary nature.

Non-monetary items

Non-monetary items are all items that are not monetary items.

Non-monetary items were made up of only variable items at that time. There were no constant items because double entry accounting was still not invented yet.

There were still no units of constant purchasing power because there was still no CPI. There was still no HCA model, no stable measuring unit assumption and no HC items. There were still no double entry financial reports: still no profit and loss accounts and still no balance sheets.


When inflation reared its ugly head soon after the invention of money it destroyed the real value of money and other monetary items as it does today. Inflation caused the only systemic economy-wide real value destruction in monetary items at that time and as it continues today in inflationary economies.

There was no second systemic economy wide real value destruction in constant real value non-monetary items as a result of accountants unknowingly destroying the real value of constant items never or not fully updated because they choose to measure financial capital maintenance in nominal monetary units when they implement the stable measuring unit assumption as part of the HC model.

Constant items

Finally the double entry accounting model was invented. It was first comprehensively codified by Luca Pacioli in his book Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita, published in Venice in 1494.

The invention of the double entry accounting model established the accounting framework for maintaining the real values of constant real value non-monetary items – the third distinct category of economic items. The double entry accounting model’s fundamental function of maintaining the real value of constant items is only possible with a Constant Purchasing Power Accounting model as provided for in International Financial Reporting Standards by the International Accounting Standards Board in the Framework for the Preparation and Presentation of Financial Statements, Paragraph 104 (a) in an inflationary or deflationary economy. South African accountants unknowingly destroy the real value of constant items never or not fully updated in the SA real economy on a massive scale when they implement the stable measuring unit assumption as part of the traditional Historical Cost Accounting model. This mistake costs South Africa about R200 billion per annum compounded into the future if SA accountants keep on selecting the traditional Historical Cost model as they all do today instead of the CIPPA model as provided for by IFRSs.

Examples of constant items in today’s economy are salaries, wages, rents, pensions, taxes, duties, fixed interest payments, all other Profit and Loss Account items, retained earnings, issued share capital, capital reserves, share issue premiums, share issue discounts, all other shareholder’s equity items, provisions, trade debtors, trade creditors, other non-monetary debtors and creditors, taxes payable and receivable, deferred tax assets and liabilities, dividends payable and receivable, royalties payable and receivable, etc.

Copyright © 2008 Nicolaas Smith