The Political Economy of International Standard Setting in Financial Reporting: A US Perspective on the Adoption of IFRS Across the World

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
TW1.1.01 (Tower One)
Zehra G Kavame Eroglu, Fordham University School of Law, New York, NY
A harmonized set of accounting standards has been among the major steps taken to integrate capital markets, however, more than half a century passed without achieving the goal, namely having a single set of accounting standards adopted all around the world. Historically, every country had its own accounting standards, each merging to some extent with its local corporate, labor, and tax laws. No matter how undesirable, it was natural to expect differences among nations.

Globalization made these differences so undesirable and impractical that from corporate leaders to accountants to government officials, many worked for harmonized accounting standards. Once achieved, harmonized accounting standards were going to enable comparability of financial statements of corporations from all around the world.

In an earlier paper, we argue that the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in the US would, in theory, be easier compared to what the EU had to go through. [1] Both IFRS and US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are Anglo-American standards whereas until the adoption of IFRS, accounting in Europe was nothing close to that. Yet, EU mandated that all publicly traded firms use IFRS in their consolidated financial statements from 2005. There are several issues yet to be resolved, but, all in all, Europe did manage to complete what was once thought to be an insuperable task.

Looking at what has been happening in the US in the meanwhile is at least puzzling. If the adoption of IFRS in the US would be much easier than what the EU had to experience, why has the US still not adopted IFRS? Over a decade-long of convergence process between US GAAP and IFRS is yet to come to an end. One step further, there is still no consensus on whether it is beneficial for the US to adopt IFRS. Scholars looking at the possibility of the adoption of IFRS in the US have so far kept looking at the differences between IFRS and US GAAP or focused on the fact that it is an international organization that sets the standards. 

With this paper I try to shift the paradigm and argue that what has been claimed so far does not touch the real reason for not adopting IFRS: IFRS is a set of US-supported Anglo-American accounting standards and the reason of creating IFRS, from its initiation, was not to adopt them in the US but to convert the patch-work of accounting standards around the world into a single system that is more like US GAAP. It was clear that the world wasn’t going to adopt US GAAP as there has always been resistance to any one country’s standards being chosen as the world’s common denominator. I argue that the US already got what it wanted out of IFRS by having the rest of the world adopt standards closer to US GAAP more than anything else.

[1] Martin Gelter & Zehra G. Kavame Eroglu, Whose Trojan Horse? The Dynamics of Resistance against IFRS, 36 U. Pa. J. Int’l L. (2014) (forthcoming).