Markus J. Milne Accountancy and Business Law University of Otago Dunedin New Zealand Ph: 64-3-479-8120 Fax: 64-3-479-8450 Email: email@example.com
* The author would like to thank Alan MacGregor, Carolyn Stringer, Gregory Liyanararchchi, Ros Whiting
and an anonymous conference reviewer for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks are also due to seminar participants from the Department of Accounting and Finance, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and to conference participants at the 2001 BAA Annual Conference at the University of Nottingham.
POSITIVE ACCOUNTING THEORY, POLITICAL COSTS AND SOCIAL DISCLOSURE ANALYSES: A CRITICAL LOOK
This paper critically reviews the literature seeking to establish evidence for a positive accounting theory of corporate social disclosures. It carefully traces through the original work of Watts and Zimmerman (1978) showing their concern with the lobbying behaviour of large US oil companies during the 1970s. Such companies were argued to be abusing monopolists and likely targets of selfinterested politicians pursuing wealth transfers in the form of taxes, regulations and other ‘political costs’. Watts and Zimmerman’s reference to “social responsibility” is shown to be a passing remark, and most likely refers to “advocacy advertising”, a widespread practice amongst large US oil companies at that time. Subsequent literature that relies on Watts and Zimmerman to present a case for social disclosures is shown to extend their original arguments. In the process, concern over the “high profits” of companies is shown to diminish, and the notion of political costs is so broadened that it blurs with other social theories of disclosure. Consequently, the positive accounting-based social disclosures literature fails to provide distinct arguments for self-interested managers wealth maximising. This... [continues]
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