The Triple Entry Accounting (TEA) concept aims to usher in a new era of accountability, trust, and good governance through technology. To increase knowledge of TEA and discuss its implications and methods, the Peer For Peer Foundation will hold the first Triple Entry Accounting conference in Malta in November 2023.
The foundation, founded by Ian Grigg, Arthur Doohan, Konstantinos Sgantzos, and André Bonello, calls for papers on all issues related to TEA—including technological fields like AI, blockchain, and cryptography, but expands further into law, politics, accounting practices, and commercial applications.
The deadline for proposals is on May 20, while the papers must be submitted by July 20. Dr. Eva Porras will be the Program Chair for this conference. Dr. Porras is Managing Director and Lead Researcher, SmartLedger – A Blockchain Solutions Provider and Honorary Collaborating Researcher, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos Contratado Doctor, ANECA.
Speaking to CoinGeek in the interview below, Grigg explains how TEA enhances the centuries-old methods of double-entry bookkeeping by moving from opinions within firms to facts within firms.
Bitcoin and the blockchain are one way to include TEA practices and see them become widely adopted. The TEA concept emerged before Bitcoin, and while there is good reason to believe that Bitcoin was inspired in part by triple entry accounting, TEA is not limited to blockchain technology and its issues. Quite what the differences are, and where alternates in design lead, is what is called “an open question,” and the conference is a perfect place to explore and answer that question.
Grigg and his team highlight TEA’s multidisciplinary nature, which is reflected in the “wide net” of its scope and call for research papers. Its implications reach beyond just accounting and computer science, and into processes within government and politics that affect society in general.
More information about the Malta event and suggested paper/presentation topics are available on the TEA conference website.
Interview with Ian Grigg, co-founder of the Peer For Peer foundation and Triple-Entry Accounting proponent
Why is 2023 the best time for Triple Entry Accounting to have its own conference event?
Actually, this conference is somewhat overdue. We’ve been working for two years to put it together, and I think comfortably it would have been timely a few years back. I had thought that the amount of activity, both commercial and academic, would mean that someone else would have set one up before now. But I’m happy that our Peer For Peer Foundation is in a position to do it now.
Your call for papers is broad regarding disciplines—has interest come more from some sectors than others?
TEA is multidisciplinary in its nature. It directly draws from and integrates elements of accounting (bookkeeping techniques), cryptography (signatures and hashes), and computer science (especially networks and state machines). Also included is the broad ambit of governance, with implications out to rights, regulatory affairs, politics, and society. And of course, there is tremendous interest in financial business models and how to promulgate to society for the benefit of all.
This results in quite a few different streams of thought, out in “the wild,” as to applications and impacts for TEA, so the initial net is cast wide.
In your opinion, what are the most significant developments in TEA (and related technology) in the past few years?
The biggest development by far was the design of the Bitcoin blockchain as a triple-entry construction, in which the third party is the blockchain itself. By showing that we could build an agent that could follow programmatic actions as directed, with reference to a ledger, SN (Satoshi Nakamoto) removed the requirement for Trust from the term Trusted Third Party. (This is not to say that Trust was removed, just that the Third Party was now objectively programmatic rather than trusted to respond.)
It particularly found expression in DEXs, returning to the original BitShares around 2013. DEXs rely on TEA to deliver a cast-iron exchange to an adversarial environment, and they work. In contrast, centralized exchanges have lurched from crisis to crisis, and a large part of that failing is poor accounting. Most of the exchanges don’t understand accounting as a discipline at all. Many are using single-entry bookkeeping and very crude governance controls, which frequently fail. FTX is just this year’s example, but it seems to be more of a pattern than an example.
Another significant example of TEA was the design of Corda (2016), which is based on the purest expression of two parties trading a state machine that could represent anything, and at certain defined points, lock the state machine forward by having a “Notary” or third party sign off on that state. Corda as a system tried to extract the essentials of Bitcoin, blockchain, and TEA, from a business perspective and ended up validating the basic pattern of TEA. “I know that what you see is what I see” an aphorism of Richard Gendal Brown, one of the co-designers of Corda.
Is proof-of-work the most viable option for securing TEA networks, or are you interested in conference attendees hearing about other consensus mechanisms too? (Proof-of-stake being one, though there are others as well)
PoS is problematic because it is not dynamic, which leads to a rentier effect. DPoS (delegated proof-of-stake) has a similar failing, leading to sclerosis in the set of block producers. PoW doesn’t have that problem, but it does have massive resource demands which are directly dependent on the rise in price encouraging mining to consume more energy. The net effect of this is that it really pushes you to be very efficient on the number of transactions you can squeeze into a block, which has been seen in some chains but not in others. To a large extent, this then begs the question—who are the users? If they have a modicum of trust, that might be sufficient to avoid the costs of full PoW.
There is no particular need for an expensive consensus method just for accounting purposes, in the sense that the records are accounts of events. The expensive consensus method is needed when the records are the events, for example, the money or the shares. To put it another way, few are interested in stealing accounting records; everyone’s interested in stealing the money.
Your paper on TEA predates “blockchain” by a few years (or at least the naming of it as such). Blockchain has since become the buzzword and carries its own baggage (eg: “cryptocurrency” issues). Are you happy to associate TEA with blockchain, or would you prefer conference discussions to focus mainly on the TEA concept/implications and technology?
TEA is a very distinct construct that intersects with the blockchain concept. For a start, it is much less transactional than cryptocurrency and is definitely a long-term project for those hoping to deploy and use it. Secondly, it is not tied to cryptocurrency in any way and works with any record type. So, this will not explicitly be a ‘blockchain’ or ‘crypto’ conference.
Some blockchains, such as Bitcoin, demonstrate the TEA concept, and there’s good reason to believe that this was informed. That is, Bitcoin was designed with TEA in mind. But Bitcoin isn’t the only method, and many blockchains deviate sufficiently that some would say they are not TEA.
The differences speak to the difficult questions that we don’t really understand—what is blockchain, what is TEA—these are up there with “what is money” and “what is debt?” Such questions are easy at a superficial level, but when it comes to building a system, that’s not enough.
Hence, this conference is about improving the understanding of TEA. Blockchain will be a feature, but it is not directly about blockchain.
Technologically, the world is ready to deploy TEA networks. Do you think any cultural/societal/political shifts are needed for it to become more widely adopted?
The concept, as represented by blockchains, is widely adopted and seen to be robust, so the “underpinnings” are available and inexpensive. However, adoption will be a slow and costly effort for each implementer. Accounting systems may be easy to choose these days, but set-up and maintenance costs are large, and the costs of changing can be huge. And there are classic network effects at work here in that the benefits are exponentially derived as users start participating. There’s not much first-mover advantage, and no ‘user-group’ or regulatory support.
The corollary to all that is that the current system is plainly appalling in terms of the loss of value endured by economies globally through fraud, incompetence, etc. Many see it as “the cost of doing business,” but as we move into more complicated and less profitable times, that cost will be seen as unsustainable. And TEA is the only paradigm that, by design, works against the flaws in double-entry.
The conference hopes to help start building out the necessary frameworks that are needed for easier and more widespread adoption.
Technically, the design pattern is well established. Commercially, there are some barriers to widespread deployment:
(a) There isn’t a toolkit or library you can download. Instead, there needs to be a meeting of the minds as to what data layout we’re going to create, trade, and accept.
(b) This can be done in several ways:
- By an entrepreneur such as SN that achieves a great success, sets the layouts and protocols, and everyone is dragged along.
- By a user community group that establishes the layouts and protocols, and then builds it out and does compatibility and conformity testing.
- By a power like a regulator or law that sets it and mandates it, leaving the private sector to comply.
(c) Each of these has severe problems.
(d) Culturally, socially, and politically, the ramifications of TEA are not understood. Few are even aware that they might exist. For that reason, we invite papers on these topics! For example, blockchains are all out there in public, and therefore all the transactions are there for public viewing. This is the polar opposite of the privacy that people enjoy with cash and also with banks to a diminishing extent. Is society ready for all spending to be in the public eye? I don’t think so.
Was there any particular reason you chose Malta as the conference venue?
We needed a location that had good flight connections, was cost-effective, was interesting to visit, and preferably isn’t so cold that only the brave attend. Also, we need good on-ground connections to manage the process, and we have that with Malta, as two of us live there.
We would like to add that, in general, developments since the Bitcoin “explosion” have convincingly explored the ability and capacity of blockchains in many different directions, but for actual accounting purposes, corporates have been stymied by the openness of the public blockchains.
Government indifference and the hostility of financial entities and regulators have hampered progress in accounting development when both should be, at the very least, exploring the opportunity, especially given the myriad weaknesses of their current systems.
We propose two general questions framing the conference.
On the one hand, the original Todd Boyle dream of parties working to build their TEA ledgers with trusted third parties hasn’t happened—how to rectify that?
On another, regulators haven’t appreciated the potential bounty TEA affords— how to change that?
Watch: Triple Entry Accounting on Blockchain
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