We recently had a chance to chat with Ronald Duska who recently retired from The American College. Ron is currently an adjunct at the American College, as well as an adjunct at St. Joseph’s University, and principal of Duska Business Ethics Consulting. Along with Brenda Shay Duska (Del Pizzo & Associates, USA) and Julie Anne Ragatz (The American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services, USA), Ron is author of Accounting Ethics, recently published in a second edition. The book deals with, among other things, the recent financial crises, the nature of corruption and greed, and the responsibility that accountants should feel for the general public. Given the financial meltdown of 2008, and the new challenges to GAAP from IFERS and Mark to Market accounting, a new edition, that went beyond the concerns created by the Enron and Arthur Anderson collapse and the passage of Sarbanes/Oxley, of the early years of the millennium, seemed essential.
Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Accounting Ethics?
Ron Duska: It was in response to a request of the series editors, particularly Michael Hoffman who, knowing my interest in business ethics and the fact that my wife was a CPA, thought it might be a project of interest to me.
PE: What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?
RD: The central concern of the book is to analyse what the societal purpose of accounting is, to see what demands the fulfilment of that purpose puts upon the accountant. It was also concerned with laying out a workable decision procedure for making ethical decisions, which was not too bogged down in esoteric ethical theoretic concerns.
PE: And what is it that draws you to this topic?
RD: As I mentioned above, my wife, who co-authored the book, is a CPA, and it seemed a challenge to apply business ethics principles to the field in which she worked.
PE: What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?
RD: I hope it will bring accountants back to a realization that their first obligations are to the general public and the truth, and not to merely serving those who employ them. The recent financial crises, following the financial meltdown, have shown how some members of the profession have failed in their ethical obligation to the public. As informers and gatekeepers, they have failed.
PE: What sort of audience did you have in mind when you wrote it?
RD: Generally we are trying to reach both practicing accountants, and accounting students in both undergraduate and graduate programs.
PE: Is there another book you wish you could claim credit for?
RD: Either Frank Partnoy’s Infectious Greed, or Michael Lewis’ The Big Short. They clearly present, Partnoy in giving examples from the 80’s and 90’s, and Lewis giving examples from the sub-prime meltdown, what happens when the financial markets fail to fulfil their societal purpose of providing capital for others to use for production, and become profit centers of their own which produce nothing.
PE: What’s your current project? What’s next?
RD: I’m looking into what happens when people forget their ultimate purpose, and get sidetracked by the simple pursuit of profit. I think that is the essence of corruption. I am also interested in examining the notion of usury, what Aristotle identifies as pursuing wealth simply for its own sake, and using wealth, not for investment but to generate more wealth. What are the moral implications of falling into that accumulator syndrome?
PE: What do you see as the relation of government and business?
RD: This is I think the most important issue facing those of us in the business ethics, accounting ethics, financial ethics area. There needs to be some regulation, but how much of it incentivizes unethical behaviour and creates perverse incentives and moral hazards is an incredibly important issue. For example, in accounting, one could ask of the effects of mandating certain accounting procedures, like mark to market Or one could ask about the effects on the free market (to the extent it is free) of designating certain gatekeepers, such as auditors and rating agencies.