[Source: Dec 13th 2014 | NEW YORK | The Economist print edition, About 45% down the page]

Although auditors cannot hope to verify more than a tiny fraction of the millions of transactions their clients conduct, in order to comply with the standards they physically count inventories, match invoices with shipments and bank statements, and consult experts on the plausibility of management’s estimates. Most firms’ records are at least tweaked during the process. And even though private businesses do not have to undergo audits, most mid-size firms buy one anyway, because banks rarely lend to unaudited borrowers. The recent spate of frauds in China, where auditing practices are far laxer, shows that markets are right to assign a premium to companies that receive a Western accountant’s approval.

Those conflicts of interest
Even so, the misaligned incentives built into auditing all but guarantee that accountants will fall short of investors’ needs. The beneficiaries of the service—current and prospective shareholders—pay for it indirectly or not at all, while the purchasers buy it only because they are required to. As a result, companies tend to select auditors who will provide a clean opinion as cheaply and quickly as possible. Similarly, accountants who discover irregularities may be better off asking management to make minor adjustments, rather than blowing the whistle on a mis-statement that could embroil their firm in costly litigation.

Maybe a problem involves my persisting dread with all but, but how do you analyse/decompose the bolded? I tried to rewrite by overlooking the ancillary phrases (What are better terms for them?) I write in regular style words unchanged from the original above, and italicise those that I changed.

1. Even so, the ... incentives ... all except guarantee that accountants will fail ... needs.

2. Even so, the ... incentives ... does not guarantee that accountants will fail ... needs.

3. Even so, the ... incentives ... may allow that accountants will fail ... needs.

  • 4. None of the above.
    – TimR
    Dec 27, 2014 at 13:33

1 Answer 1


"All but guarantees that..." means "nearly ensures that...". Not absolutely, but "damn close".

The housing community's minimum age requirement of 55 all but guarantees that the neighborhood will be quiet.

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