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Abstract

This inductive study evaluates how accounting rules promulgated by U.S. standard setters evolved over a century. Archival data viewed through the lens of the observer effect -- where the act of observation influences the subject -- reveals long-term patterns of behavior. Interaction of rule makers and followers suggests three generalizations: rule sets grow, codification accelerates rule set growth, and interaction between regulators and those who are regulated confounds predictions about possible consequences of new rules. In other words, this system has never reached equilibrium despite one hundred years of effort to constrain behavior. As unchecked rule growth risks costly compliance efforts and unintended consequences, regulators should be cautious about codifying rule sets and scholars should contribute to such efforts by identifying ways to determine when existing rule sets are sufficient to satisfy societal needs.

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