Years ago, Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, now President of Ecuador, tried to learn accounting in a humble government job. His boss, according to an Ecuador legend, put him in charge of the petty-cash box. "Look," he said. "On this page, the credit side, write down everything that comes in. On the other page, the debit side, write everything that goes out."

At the end of the first day, young Velasco submitted his report. Two entries caught his boss's eye. They were: "Credit: two nuns came in." "Debit: ten sucres [$4.87]* went out."

Now Velasco, high-minded and...

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