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The Arthur Anderspin Degree

A Spy in the House of Work

Don’t you love the way that what’s acceptable in business keeps changing? The laws of celebrity now apply to capitalism, circa 2002: Everything’s for sale. Nothing’s wrong for long. And every crime is the road to prime time. You don’t believe your humble Spy? Consider Monica Lewinsky’s HBO special. Or Mike Milken’s annual business thinker’s bash. And, of course, the Arthur Anderspin Program, the quickest way to become a Certified Public Accoundit, the career du jour, a job that combines the status of an accountant with the financial rewards of a rob ’em-blind bandit.

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Tuition isn’t cheap, but my old friend Rhonda — my best buddy from the days of the new economy … you do remember the new economy, don’t you? No? Neither do I. Anyway, Rhonda and I knew in our bones that accounditing was the next big thing. We dusted off our calculators, tried to remember the difference between an asset and a liability (Doh! Turns out, we didn’t even need to), and realized that in the new world of business, 2 plus 2 equals $2.5 billion.

Just a few minutes on the Web, and we easily passed the test to qualify for the Anderspin Program. Sample question: Your boss asks you to shred 800 pounds of highly sensitive documents. You:

a) blow the whistle, kiss your career and your marriage good- bye, and pray you can sell your story to Hollywood
b) ask whether you should check with the client first
c) say, “Shred? Dude! I already did!”

The Anderspin Program is chaired by Professor I.M. “Crook” Cook (www.cookthebooks.com), who says, “Since we’re the ones who know where the money is, it’s time we did more than just count it. Now we can also hide it, lie about it, and, best of all, help ourselves to it. After a few short months in the Anderspin Program, you’ll be ‘losing’ decimal points and pinballing around liabilities. You’ll be a master of accounditing.”

Enrollment was a cinch. Because Rhonda and I signed up together, we qualified as a special partnership, which, we learned, meant that we could sell a share of our tuition back to Professor Cook, then claim the loss as a charge against earnings while deducting the entire course as a charitable contribution.

Moments after submitting our credit-card numbers, we received our first-term syllabus. Courses toward the CPA included “Off the Books, Off the Hook: Making the Private Partnership Work for You,” and a special invitation-only practicum: “Taking the Counting Out of Accounting.”

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Rhonda and I were stoked. We were convinced that we were on the ground floor of this decade’s mania. But the following day, we logged on and up popped, “404 Error Message: Page Not Found.” At first we thought that our instructor was back in the Big House. Every course at the Anderspin Program is taught by a professional accoundit, and our first class, “Healing Through Stealing,” was taught by Buck Bonnechance, former head accoundit for a number of corporations currently under congressional investigation.

Bonnechance is the guru of accounditing. But where was he? We tried to track down Professor Cook. No luck. Finally, it dawned on us: We’d learned the only really valuable lesson from our first nonclass. Things may change rapidly in the world of business, but a few things are timeless, such as the famous one-to-one ratio of suckers born per minute. In a classic accounditing move, Professor Cook had disappeared. Rhonda received an email from him a few days later, reminding her, “Don’t forget to write off your tuition as a loss!”

This is the latest episode in The Spy’s continuing saga, “Working Behind Enemy Lines.” You can find the entire Spy chronicles on the Web (www.askthespy.com).