Vol. 26. No. 2. 1990
ROBERT R. STERLING
Positive Accounting: An Assessment
Positive accounting theory, using the book of the same name by Watts and Zimmerman (!986) as the primary source of information about that theory, is subjected to scrutiny. The two pillars — (a) vaiue-free study of (b) accounting practices - upon which the legitimacy of that theory are said to rest (and the absence of which is said to make other theories illegitimate) are found to be insubstantial. The claim that authorities — economic and scientific — support the type of theory espoused is found to be mistaken. The accomplishments — actual and potential — of positive theory are found to have been niL and are projected to continue to be nil. Based on these findings, the recommendation is to classify positive accounting theory as a 'cottage industry" at the periphery of accounting thought and reject its attempt to take centre stage by radically redefining the fundamental question of accounting. Key words: Accounting theory; Scientific method; Theory.
INTRODUCTION What ought accounting practices be? More fully, which objects and events, and which altrihute(s) of them, should be represented in accounts and on financial and by consensus of those contributors, it was the statements? That ancient question was e.xamined by all of the past contributors to accounting thought.' fundamental question of accounting. At base, that question concerned the states ' Contributors who examined the ancient question comprise an honour roll of names in aecountmg: Pacioli. Dicksec. Sprague. Hatlield. Faton. Edwards and Be!l. Littleton. May. Baxter. Moonit?. Chambers. Scott. Sweenc). and Esqueric to name hut a few. RoiuR I R. Sii Ri IM;; is Kendall D. Garff Professor of Busmess Enterprise, Graduate School of Business. University of Utah. The author is mdebted to W.T Baxter (London School). Philip Bell (Boston). .lohn W. Buckley (UCLA). Raymond J. Chambers (Sydney), Barry Cushing (Penn State). W....