Luca Pacioli and Leonardo DaVinci – Domestic Partnership of Genius

Jack Prot

Luca Pacioli and Leonardo DaVinci–Renaissance men–were both mathematical geniuses. Leonardo was more inclined towards military engineering, while Luca towards abstract and pure math. When Pacioli included “Double Entry Bookkeeping” in his textbook, Summa de Aritmetica, which he published in 1494 (two years after Christopher Columbus landed in Santo Domingo), little did he know he would 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 basic notions that accountants follow today: Assets equal liabilities plus owner’s equity (A=L + OE).

Both being college professors travelled together and stayed together at different universities.

Sigmund Freud-in his study on Leonardo’s homosexuality- ignored this fact. It is a pity because Freud would have brought out factual evidence rather than wild speculations based on his physchoanalytic techniques. Leonardo, being much younger than Luca, has always been described as Luca’s protege.

Today with time perspective we can understand they probably had a domestic partnership of sorts. In 1495 they lived together in Milan and Venice. Art Historians have well documented that Leonardo was summoned to court to address charges of homosexuality against him. But since the accuser did not show up, the charges were later dropped.

The diagrams and figures one sees in Luca’a Summa were DaVinci’a drawings. They worked together as equal partners rather than the master-apprentice relations of the times.

Billions of human beings have populated the earth, mostly living in the shadow of survival and mediocrity, the odd, the strange, and the eccentric are the ones who make the most invaluable contributions to the improvement of the human condition. These two eccentrics did make tangible contributions to mankind.

While Leonardo’s accomplishments have been well chronicled and documented in our times–even Bill Gates couldn’t resist owning Leonardo’s original manuscripts–Luca’s contributions are less known. Like our American composer Aaron Copland, I will play a fanfare for the common man: Luca by his ingenious explanation of Double Entry Bookkeeping system made possible international commerce, opening the flood-gates to what today we call “The Global Economy.”

No longer were businesses confined within frontiers, as banks, financial institutions, entrepreneus, and corporations, bartered, exchanged, and extracted profits across frontiers. The standardization of Financial Statements followed, so that Balance Sheets, Income Statements, and Cash Flows are read and interpreted without major impediments all over Europe.

With capital formation in full thrust, the needed capital for factories became available, fostering thereby the advent of the European Industrial Revolution. By 1750 Europe was already industrialized, and by 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 right side.

In more than ten thousand years of recorded history, no one in the human race had attempted to keep business records by double entry. The Babylonians, Phoenicians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other ancient civilizations recorded their transactions on a cash basis and by a single entry; that is, business people made lists of items purchased and sold.

As a result, businesses remained small enterprises, doomed to remain small since the lack of an orderly system prevented growth. Whether in papyrus, sheep-skins parchments, or bricks, all business records were endless enumerations and catalogues, which offered little discernment into measurements of profit or loss.

Pacioli changed all that.

To think that a humble discovery such as double entry bookkeeping can change the destiny of the human race challenges credibility. But given that double entry allows not only for an orderly classification of accounts, journals, and ledgers, but also for measurements of liquidity and profitability, it isn’t surprising to see that Capitalism bloomed.

In economic systems where Capitalism prevails, businesses–being the major employers– offer medical coverage and retirement plans, man and woman can now enjoy the latest technologies and thereby live longer and in good health.

One can well imagine Luca and Leonardo discussing symmetries, constrasts, dichotomies, dualities, binary oppositions, polarities, antithesis, and other opposites:

“Physical nature exhibits 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 hatred, in our spirits and bodies–or as Heraclytus loved to say:’the way up is the way down, the narrow and the wide,” Leonardo would reply.

“What about Ecclesiastes, Leonardo, –didn’t he 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 pull down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time for mourning and a time for dancing;…

The observation of these doubles as a system of knowledge permitted Luca to expand it into the Accounting equation where what is on the left must equal what is on the right side (Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity). Later, accountants realized that another duality was needed: Revenues, which are increases in owner’s equity, and Expenses decreases; the difference being no other than profits or losses.

With debits and credits pretty much 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 sum, is the synthesis of a duality: mind and body.

In A Tale of Two Citites Dickens opens his novel with a detailed set of antheses:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–

Although philosophers such as Hegel and Karl Marx attempted to discard the duality system by replacing it with a triad: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. They failed; and we can understand why: Hegel professed the State’s power, while Marx communism. By now we know the chaotic results of Nazism and Communism.

The natural tendency is duality as proved by the Second Law of thermodynamics: order and chaos (enthropy). Though Nature tends to chaos, human nature imposes order; the mind invents patterns of understanding.

The Double entry Bookkeeping system is a triumph of the mind over the chaotic activities of humans engaged in trade. Not only did Double Entry brought forth a new economic system, but also the dawn of a new way of thinking: modernity. And modernity dispelled the mists of superstition, monsters, magic, witches, ogres, dwarfs, giants, miracles, chimeras, unicorns, centaurs, sirens, and other impossible figures of the supernatural.

The middle ages and feudalism yielded to modern times.

Luca Pacioli’s legacy–accounting system–to the business world is order. It contains: Balance, wholeness, and radiance, because his system dovetails with Democracy, with Freedom to the entrepreneur; a system that coincides with Adam Smith’s pillars of capitalism: Laissez-faire (free market economy), competition (Invisible Hand), and the 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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