They call people like us “bean counters”—the soulless ones beavering away in some windowless accounting department, the living calculators who don’t care about desperation or aspirations, who just want you to turn in your expense report on time and explain those perfectly legitimate charges on the company credit card. We’re the ones whose demands are mere distractions from any organization’s or government agency’s true mission.
But maybe bookkeepers and accountants deserve a little more respect. They’re often the ones who actually bring down corrupt officials through dogged attention to those “irrelevant” distractions. It wasn’t for nothing that Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein decided to “follow the money” when they were trying to unravel the mystery of the Watergate scandal. By following that infamous money trail, the two journalists were indeed able to discover secret campaign funds used to pay off the people who had burglarized Democratic Party offices in the Watergate building, along with the men who later covered it up. Eventually that money trail led all the way to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, and uncovering it brought down a corrupt president.
If, one of these days, Donald Trump is taken down, it may well be the bean counters who ultimately do it. When it comes to draining the Trumpian swamp, they’ve already done a pretty good job on several of his appointees. Think, for instance of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof booth and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson’s $31,000 customized dining-room set.
The Keys to the Kingdom
I’m old, as I like to tell the students I now teach, so I’ve done a lot of things in my life. For some years, almost by accident, I made my living as a bookkeeper and accountant. (The difference between the two isn’t actually a legal one; often it’s more a question of gender than anything else, with a bookkeeper more likely to be a woman and an accountant a man. A certified public accountant is a licensed professional who has the authority to audit an organization’s books. A regular accountant is anyone who understands debits and credits.)
When I was young, there were generally three career paths open to a woman with a bachelor’s degree: Teacher, nurse, and secretary. As a college student in those ancient days before computers took over, I’d refused to learn touch-typing because I was determined never to be a secretary. However, after a stint packing ice cream cones in a factory and a few years as a clerk in Oregon’s state-run liquor stores, I found myself at a temp agency looking for something that might pay a little better. As it turned out, there was a 25-cents-per-hour differential in pay between a “general office worker” and an “accounting clerk.” The latter, however, had to know how to run a 10-key calculator by touch. I admit it: I lied and swore that I could. Eventually, after clicking those keys often enough, I learned how to do it pretty well.