In 1494 Luca Pacioli, Franciscan friar, published Summa de Arithmetica Geometria Proportioni et Proportionalita (The Summa). Simply put, The Summa was an early business textbook comprised of five sections; four of mathematics and one of bookkeeping (or accounting). A textbook written to support the economic development of the common person of 1500 Italy. Today developing nations still struggle with economic (often low) growth. Especially impacted are the bottom billion, those who are still largely impoverished. Consequently, a debate over foreign aid has emerged. This debate centers on methods rather than objectives and is often characterized by the contrasting approaches. The books of Sachs (The End of Poverty, 2005) and Easterly (The White Man’s Burden, 2006) serve as a classic contrast of solution perspectives.

This paper suggests a significant contribution to the economic development (aid) solution in the 500-year-old work of Luca Pacioli with its focus on developing human capital. The problems faced by an evolving merchant-based economy in 16th century Italy are surprisingly similar to those of contemporary developing economies, including the socially positive impacts of business and education’s role therein. Pacioli lists the elements of business success as access to capital (financing, mathematical and accounting skills), ability to model business and make business decisions, and an appropriate accounting system (“Venetian” or double entry bookkeeping). This paper argues these fundamentals are as important today and they were 500 years ago and considers them in the context of today’s emerging economies. In addition, Pacioli’s work integrates well with both various economic development theories and Catholic Social Teaching.