The May 2008 issue of The Journal of Accountancy ran opinion pieces on the role of accounting in the subprime crisis and subsequent bursting of the credit market bubble. Paul Miller was invited to comment on a controversial claim that mark-to-market practices made things worse. The critics claim that GAAP practices weakened institutions that invested in collateralized debt obligations by revealing large losses when the CDOs’ market values evaporated.They assert that financial statements would better serve the public interest if managers can keep unrealized losses (which they consider to be unreal) out of their financial statements. By a huge leap of ego, they conclude that they and everyone else would be better off if nobody is aware that those losses had occurred. After all, everyone knows they aren’t real because they are always followed by gains. Except when they aren’t, of course.

To agree with that, one has to swallow the proposition that biased managers are better than objective markets at predicting the future for their tattered and torn debt instruments. Maybe it’s just us, but that idea strikes us as irrationally exuberant ... .

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