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Together with our recent guest blogger Sebastian Botzem from the Social Science Research Center in Berlin I prepared a piece for this year’s EGOS Colloquium, which is taking place in wonderful Barcelona. In the sub-theme titled “The social dynamics of standardization” we are presenting our paper “The Rule of Standards: Codifying Power in the Transnational Arena” (PDF), in which we try a relatively unorthodox comparison: We contrast the case of Microsoft Windows as a technological market standard with non-technological and negotiated accounting standards in the realm of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

Not least to our own surprise, both examples of standardization show many similarities that allow drawing conclusions for transnational governance by standard setting in general. Among these are the following:

  • Due to coordination effects, in both cases an increase in the total number of adopters paves the way for – though not guaranteeing – one dominating standard.
  • While having been developed differently (market competition vs. political negotiation), in both cases growing standard diffusion reduced the need for participatory or inclusive modes of standard-setting (see the figure below).
  • Finally and again observable in both cases, growing adoption can trigger what we call the dialectics of power in standardization: The successful establishment of a standard redistributes benefits and power among affected actors and feeds back into the standard formation process.

Comparing Standardization Processes

But aside from these conclusions, the paper may also illustrate why gathering seemingly very different empirical fields under the common umbrella of “governance across borders” in this blog might make sense after all.

(leonhard)

This post is provided by our first “guest blogger” Sebastian Botzem. He is research fellow at the department „Internationalization and Organization” at the Social Science Research Center (WZB) in Berlin.

Fair value accounting has been identified as one of the causes of the current global financial crisis (see, for example, on this blog “Fair Value Accounting in Retreat?“). While it would be unfair to bookkeepers, accountants, auditors and academics to make them solely responsible for the loss of wealth and jobs, the present twists and quirks with regard to accounting policy are remarkable and merit closer attention.

A good example to show that the logic of accounting is questioned is Germany’s “bad bank”  solution: In principle there seems to be agreement to clear balance sheets from heavily impaired assets in order to free up capital and cut the risk of further writedowns. How that should be done, however, remains a big question. One of the great unknowns is of course how to determine the price for the assets to be transferred. Also, it needs to be determined how and to which degree the German taxpayers are eventually being burdened with liabilities not just for years, but for decades. The legal construction is also interesting: Germany’s “bad banks” are supposed to be set up as Special Purpose Entities (SPE). Günther Merl, former speaker of Germany’s public banking rescue fund Soffin (Sonderfonds Finanzmarktstabilisierung, in English: Financial Market Stabilization Fund), has just argued in the German quality daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that the government should exempt the proposed “bad banks” from the usual regulation that applies to financial institutions. The intention of such a move is to allow for accounting provisions that treat “bad banks” not as banks. The creation of Special Purpose Entities – one cause of much of the turmoil at financial markets – to rescue financial institutions indicates the dire straits market advocates are in. Read the rest of this entry »

It doesn’t happen very often that technical matters like accounting standards make it into the final declaration of a G20 summit, agreed by the heads of government of the world’s leading nations. Nevertheless, yesterday it happened (PDF). After deliberating for two days in the City of London about the appropriate means to cure the most severe worldwide financial crisis since 1929, the leaders of the G20 stated in their declaration on strengthening the financial system

We have agreed that the accounting standard setters should improve standards for the valuation of financial instruments based on their liquidity and investors’ holding horizons…. We also welcome the FSF recommendation on procyclicality that address accounting issues. We have agreed that accounting standard setters should take action by the end of 2009 to … (for more see PDF)

Why did something so mundane make it to the agenda of world politics? While it is certainly the merit of Nicolas Sarkozy’s populist threat to walk demonstratively out of the summit that made bloggers and newspaper writers wonder whether accounting standards could save the G20, the reasons for the G20 leaders dealing with “fair value” and “dynamic provision” are certainly more complex. Some, like David Zaring, also wonder whether the G20 summit produced more than just rhetoric. Read the rest of this entry »

The financial crisis is turning many things upside down. Nevertheless, it is amazing to see how the positions of key market actors on financial reporting standards have changed since the crisis started. While investment banks, accounting firms, regulators and governments in the heyday of financial market capitalism stood firmly together in unanimous and unfettered support of fair value accounting, this front has been collapsing.

In April 2008, Neue Züricher Zeitung reported Claude Bébéar, president of the French Insurance Group Axa, as saying that mark-to-market rules which require firms to value assets according to (hypothetical) market prices had contributed to the financial crisis. Henri de Castries, CEO of the same group, was quoted as referring to a “conceptual mistake” which had forced companies and banks to write down billions of assets. In September 2008, Newt Gingrich commented on Forbes.com “Suspend Mark-to-Market Now!”, quoting Brian S. Webury, chief economist at First Trust Portfolios of Chicago:

“It is true that the root of this crisis is bad mortgage loan, but probably 70% of the real crisis that we face today is caused by mark-to-market accounting in an illiquid market.”

With the financial crisis lingering on and politicians, regulators and banks still searching for solutions, debates on the pros and cons of mark-to-market accounting have perked up again during the last weeks.

On March 11, 2009, investor Warren Buffet admitted in an CBNC interview that mark-to-market had been “gasoline on the fire” while remarkably equivocally maintaining that Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
January 2019
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