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The Evolution of Standard Costing in the U.K. and U.S.: From Decision Making to Control

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Abstract:

Decision making and control are two fundamental components of industrial management that are aided by accounting information. This article traces the evolution of standard costing in the U.K. and U.S. and describes how it has served these two purposes over time. At the start of the industrial revolution, standard costing, in the form of past actual costs, aided managers in make-or-buy, pricing, outsourcing and other routine and special decisions. In the late nineteenth century, as the mass production of homogeneous products became more common, predetermined, norm-based standard costs were promoted as the means to control operations and reduce waste. The use of predetermined costs was recommended by both academic and professional branches well into the twentieth century. Since the mid-1980s, norm-based standards have come under fire for not providing appropriate strategic signals in an era of global competition, continuous improvement and perpetual cost reduction.

This article compares the nature of standard costing practices in the British Industrial Revolution with those that evolved in the U.S. under scientific management. The enquiry is not limited to double-entry systems and, like Miller and Napier (1993), the domain is broadened to include other forms of cost-keeping practices. We utilize primary and secondary sources to argue that the environment and rationales for standard costs have changed fundamentally over time. It is speculated that in the future standard costing will be used far less for individual accountability or operational control, but will return to its decision-making roots in the form of long-run cost targets that benchmark the success of continuous cost-reduction efforts.

Keywords: Cost accounting; History; Standard costing

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-6281.00024

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Accountancy, John Carroll University, 2: Professor of Accounting, St John Fisher College

Publication date: 1998-03-01

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