TAIPEI (CP) – Jacob Soll, author of “The Reckoning”, is a globe-trotting professor and a foodie, yet Taiwan caught him by surprise.
Taiwan “wasn’t what I expected. I’m very impressed,” Soll told The China Post during his recent visit to promote the Taiwan version of his book. “It reminds me of Holland, it is not the big country but it is very balanced, careful, highly educated, not very extreme, not showing off but also living very well.”
“I’ve been very impressed by this country. For me this is a huge discovery. It’s like a secret that no one talks about Taiwan,” he said.
The professor, who lived above a restaurant when he studied in France and had spent many nights learning to cook from the chefs, saved his best words for Taiwanese food, which he described as world-class yet unpretentious.
First published in 2014, “The Reckoning” discusses the importance of financial accountability in a nation using examples throughout history from the Medici family in the 15th century, the French King Louis XIV to the United States during the independence war. Soll argued that the accounting tools like double-entry bookkeeping are central to modern capitalism and democracies.
Yet the knowledge of accounting, which had been common in the past, has been lost to the general public. Accounting “was part of the education really until World War II. So this ignorance about accounting is a new thing,” he said.
In 18th-century England, children would do their accounts before their night prayers because only after doing so could they know “where they were and they could show it to God,” Soll said. “In Italy when you finish your account you put the cross. You would tell God that ‘I’ve made my accounting to you.'”
The lost of such customs and familiarity with accounting in modern times “is a great danger because we live in a hyper financial society and yet we are hyper illiterate financially,” he said.
Soll said he research showed that financial crises are closely related to substandard accounting practices. “Financial crisis is usually caused by poor accounting,” he said, adding that the financial reforms the U.S. government put in place after the Global Recession in 2009 are mainly about accounting.
“Now they’re trying to get rid of them again,” he said, referring to the U.S. government’s plans to undo part of the reforms. “if they get rid of these, we will head right back into the storm. We’re almost there again because so many of these bad toxic stocks still circulate in the market.”
While the book “did okay” in the U.S., it became a bestseller in countries burdened with high government debt such as Japan, Greece and Portugal. “It really actually hit a nerve” in those countries, he said. The success of the book helped convince government officials in Greece and Portugal to seek Soll’s opinions about financial reforms. “I’ve been working with the (Greek) government accounting office and they’ve made substantial progress,” he said.
Soll hoped his book can help raise the awareness of proper accounting education among the public. He named the book “The Reckoning” in part because that how the Dutch they call accounting but also because of the biblical connotation.
“There was this idea of a kind of biblical reckoning” conveyed in the name of the book, he said. “If you don’t do the reckoning (making accounts), you’re going to get another one, which is a financial crisis.” •