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Luca Pacioli and Leonardo DaVinci – Domestic Partnership of Genius
Luca Pacioli and Leonardo DaVinci – Renaissance men – were both mathematical geniuses. Leonardo was more inclined towards military engineering, while Luca towards abstract and pure mathematics. When Pacioli included “Double-entry bookkeeping” in his textbook, Arithmetic sumwhich he published in 1494 (two years after the landing of Christopher Columbus in Santo Domingo), he had no idea that it was going to change the world.
Leonardo da Vinci and a monk named Luca Pacioli, the inventor of accounting (debits and credits), lived together for many years. Luca’s math textbook contained the basics that accountants follow today: assets equal liabilities plus equity (A = L + OE).
The two college professors traveled together and stayed together at different universities.
Sigmund Freud – in his study of Leonardo’s homosexuality – ignored this fact. It’s a shame because Freud would have provided factual evidence rather than wild speculation based on his psychoanalytical techniques. Leonardo, being much younger than Luca, has always been described as Luca’s protege.
Today, with a time perspective, we can understand that they probably had some sort of domestic partnership. In 1495 they lived together in Milan and Venice. Art historians have well documented that Leonardo was summoned to court to answer charges of homosexuality against him. But as the accuser failed to appear, the charges were later dropped.
The diagrams and figures that we see in Luca’a Summa were drawings by DaVinci’a. They worked together as equal partners rather than the master-apprentice relationships of the day.
Billions of human beings have populated the earth, mostly living in the shadow of survival and mediocrity, the weird, the strange and the eccentric are those who make the most invaluable contributions to the improvement of the human condition. These two eccentrics have made tangible contributions to humanity.
While Leonardo’s accomplishments have been well documented and documented in our time – even Bill Gates couldn’t resist possessing Leonardo’s original manuscripts – Luca’s contributions are less well known. Like our American composer Aaron Copland, I will play a fanfare for the common man: Luca, by his ingenious explanation of the double-entry accounting system, made international trade possible, opening the floodgates to what we now call “the world economy”.
Business was no longer confined within borders, as banks, financial institutions, entrepreneurs and corporations bartered, traded and extracted profits across borders. The standardization of financial statements followed, so that balance sheets, income statements and cash flows are read and interpreted without major obstacles throughout Europe.
With booming capital formation, the capital needed for factories became available, thus promoting the advent of the European Industrial Revolution. In 1750, Europe was already industrialized and in 1860 (after the Civil War), America became an industrial power.
Yes, it was a leap of imagination to design debits (left side) and credits (right side) as an information system. You write the assets on the left side of the equation and the claims on those assets on the right side.
In over ten thousand years of recorded history, no one in the human race had attempted to keep double-entry business records. The Babylonians, Phoenicians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other ancient civilizations recorded their transactions in cash and through a single entry; that is, business people kept lists of items bought and sold.
As a result, businesses remained small businesses, doomed to remain small since the lack of an orderly system prevented growth. Whether papyrus, sheepskin parchment, or brickwork, all business documents were endless enumerations and catalogs, which offered little discernment in measures of profit or loss.
Pacioli changed all that.
To think that a humble discovery such as double-entry bookkeeping can change the fate of mankind is a challenge to credibility. But given that double entry allows not only an orderly classification of accounts, journals and ledgers, but also measures of liquidity and profitability, it is not surprising to see that capitalism has flourished.
In economic systems where capitalism prevails, companies – being the main employers – offer medical coverage and retirement plans, men and women can now take advantage of the latest technologies and thus live longer and healthier lives.
We can well imagine Luca and Leonardo discussing symmetries, contrasts, dichotomies, dualities, binary oppositions, polarities, antitheses and other opposites:
“Physical nature has all these dualities: day and night, narrow and wide, fast and slow,” Luca would say, “and so does human nature.”
“We carry good and evil, love and hate, in our minds and bodies – or as Heraclytus liked to say: “the way up is the way down, the narrow and the wide”, replied Leonardo.
“Ecclesiastes, Leonardo, did he not say…?
a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build; a time to cry and a time to laugh; a time of mourning and a time of dancing;…
Observing these doubles as a knowledge system allowed Luca to extend it to the accounting equation where what is on the left must equal what is on the right (assets = liabilities + equity). Later, accountants realized that another duality was needed: income, which is an increase in the owner’s equity, and expenditure, which decreases; the difference being nothing but profits or losses.
Debits and credits being roughly established as a system of order, writers such as Descartes, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Dickens imposed it in literature and philosophy by means of antithesis.
Descartes cogito ergo sumis the synthesis of a duality: mind and body.
In A Tale of Two Citites, Dickens opens his novel with a detailed set of anttheses:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of madness, it was the age of belief, it was he time of unbelief, it was the season of Light, it was It was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything ahead we, we had nothing in front of us, we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going directly in the other direction…
Although philosophers such as Hegel and Karl Marx tried to reject the system of duality by replacing it with a triad: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. They missed; and we understand why: Hegel professed the power of the State, while Marx communism. We now know the chaotic results of Nazism and Communism.
The natural tendency is duality as proven by the second law of thermodynamics: order and chaos (entropy). Although nature tends to chaos, human nature imposes order; the mind invents patterns of understanding.
The double-entry accounting system is a triumph of the mind over the chaotic activities of humans engaged in commerce. Not only Double Entry gave birth to a new economic system, but also the dawn of a new way of thinking: modernity. And modernity has dispelled the mists of superstition, monsters, magic, witches, ogres, dwarves, giants, miracles, chimeras, unicorns, centaurs, mermaids and other impossible figures of the supernatural .
The Middle Ages and feudalism gave way to modern times.
The legacy of Luca Pacioli – the accounting system – to the business world is order. It contains: Balance, fullness and radiance, because its system is part of Democracy, in the Freedom of the entrepreneur; a system that coincides with the pillars of Adam Smith’s capitalism: laissez-faire (free market economy), competition (invisible hand) and division of labor (the innate human propensity that creates wealth for all).
This is my fanfare to the common man, the humble monk – Luca Pacioli
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