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Because of its simplicity, the simple Hotelling model of exhaustible-resource extraction is a useful vehicle to address two themes in economic accounting: (1) Foundational equalities in the calculation of depreciation and in double-entry bookkeeping, or circular flow, apply in both accounting and economics. (2) Incentives, decisions and outcomes are crucial in economics. It is argued that financial accounting satisfies the demands of the first theme but not the second and that green accounting falls short on both. Both can be satisfied if capital gains are included in net income and product. Comparisons are made to studies in general economics.
1. Introduction: resource accounting on a two-way street
A finding of the analysis of green accounting for an exhaustible resource in the simple Hotelling model is that, if marginal extraction costis constant,the depreciation ofthe reserve at any time is equalto the net value of output. Contrary to financial (corporate) accounting, which makes no provision for depreciation of the reserve, green accounting holds that in this central case the resource makes no contribution to the net income of a firm, sector or nation, but that the value of sales is the realization of value embodied in the resource.
The Hotelling model holds that resources are a form of capital. Returns to manufactured capital contribute to its owners’ and to national net income. Like manufactured capital, resource capital is used up in production and is valued according to its contribution to social well-being. In green accounting, however, resource capital is subject to different accounting rules. Asheim and Hartwick (2011: 2303) consider it an “anomaly that no entry for natural capital appears on the income side of the accounts”.
Accounting organizes raw data for use in empirical analysis and further theoretic development. Its aim is to provide a conceptual and numeric rendering of decisions and their consequences. For centuries financial accounting has been a highly successful economic institution for recording and interpreting commercial transactions. Yet green accountants find that it goes wrong in a model with no market failure and optimal decisions.