This paper examines and contrasts nineteenth century case law in Great Britain and the United States in which courts had to decide whether to accept accounting concepts having to do with making provisions for depreciation, amortization and depletion. It should be emphasized that the courts were not arguing about accounting theory, per se; they were deciding particular disputes, which depended on the meaning in each case of pro its. By 1889, when Lee v. Neuchatel Asphalte Company was decided, British courts had rejected accepted fixed asset accounting conventions in determining profits in tax, dividend, and other cases while United States courts accepted these conventions, except in the case of wasting asset companies. This historical contrast is of particular interest because a recent reversal of these countries legal stances has occurred through legislation. In the United States, the Revised Model Business Corporation Act and the legislatures of several states have now rejected accounting concepts of profit as the legal test for dividends and other shareholder distributions. The reasons for this rejection appear to be similar to those used by the British Court of Appeal nearly 100 years ago. In Great Britain, on the other hand, the 1980 Companies Act reverses much of the Lee case and places on accountants new responsibilities for determining whether company distributions to shareholders would violate the capital maintenance provisions of the act.

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