[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]
The concept of the balance sheet is important to the provision of information over a wide range of human activities, particularly in science and finance.
The weasel words Off Balance Sheet have historically been used by shady businesses to hide items that represent hidden liabilities and risks. They were a significant factor in the build up to the great financial crisis that still stalks the world economy. The technique is also used by politicians: notoriously, for example, by Britain’s New Labour Administration in the form of the Private Finance Initiative. The alarming scale of the liabilities only emerged after the departure from office of the instigator, Gordon Brown. It is still in use, however, in the form of stealth taxes: the outrageous cost of ineffectual wind-turbines and their deleterious effect on the National Grid, for example, is cynically loaded onto the energy bills to suffering customers and does not appear in the (allegedly now more open) taxation and expenditure figures. It is a cruel regressive tax that is responsible for a substantial and continuous increase in the miseries of real poverty.