The Theory of Interest

Fisher, Irving
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First Pub. Date
New York: The Macmillan Co.
Pub. Date
1st edition.
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§ 1 (to Ch. I, § 1)
Quotations from Professor Canning's book


THE importance to the accountant of a clear and consistent concept of income and of capital is emphasized by Professor John B. Canning in his book, The Economics of Accountancy; A Critical Analysis of Accounting Theory.

It may not be amiss at this point to put forward a comparative appraisal of the accountant's views and those of Fisher. And it may be convenient to make that appraisal upon the basis adopted for comparison, viz., scope of subject matter contemplated, mode of analysis pursued, and point of view taken.

With respect to the first there can be no possible doubt that Fisher's work is immensely superior. How much of his views will ultimately prevail among economists and among accountants no one need consider. Only a guess could be made. What the event will ultimately prove, too, might as readily be a fact about the two professions as a fact about Fisher's theory. But as a general, comprehensive treatment of the theory of income, there is nothing to compare favorably with it in either literature. (p. 172.)

In a late article Fisher says: "I believe that the concept of income is, without exception, the most vital central concept in economic science and that on fully grasping its nature and interrelations with other concepts largely depends the full fruition both of economic theory and of its applications to taxation and statistics."*1 If he had written instead that income is, without exception, the simplest and most fundamental concept of economic science, that only by means of this concept can other economic concepts ever be fully developed and understood, and that upon beginning with this concept depends the full fruition of economic theory in economic statistics, it would have been an equally true and a more significant statement. (p. 175.)

The present writer believes that had Fisher written Income and Capital, beginning with a chapter on the topic of psychic income and ending with a chapter on wealth considered as a kind of embodiment of services directly or indirectly to become income, his work would not only have been more useful to the thoughtful reading public at large, but also and most particularly, to accountants and economists.

There is very real occasion for regret that the professional accountants have found so little occasion to work in the subject of final objective income. It can hardly be doubted that, in their enterprise (income accounts) they, at times, lose sight of the fact that such statistics are wanted primarily for the ordering of the mode of living of the persons interested. For example, it is usually pressure upon shareholders for the wherewithal to meet living expenses that excites the clamor for larger dividends. Full statement of the earning prospects that condition the upbuilding of surplus would, at least, prevent their urging dividend payments contrary to their own best interests. Full statement, too, even though no dividends are forth-coming, may put the shareholders in a favorable position—through selling part of their holdings or borrowing upon them—to maintain their customary scale of living. By keeping more constantly in mind the gap between the enterprise earnings and the mode of life of the persons interested, the usefulness of their income statistics could be greatly enhanced.

From the economist's point of view, and for the good of the public, it is of very great importance that the accountants should make their income statistics as full and as complete as the conditions of their professional practice will permit. (pp. 176 and 177.)

Notes for this chapter

American Economic Review, Vol. XIV, p. 64.

Appendix to Chapter 12

End of Notes

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