Crowdfunding has always been with us – we just didn’t realise it

Crowdfunding has always been with us – we just didn’t realise it

There’s nothing new under the sun. There’s no such thing as an original idea. It’s all been done before. Etc, etc. We’re all familiar with those throwaway platitudes, the classic cynics’ catchphrase analysis – usually of an initiative in which they’ve had no involvement.

But those phrases are rooted in a statement made by a man who began his working life as a steamboat captain on the Mississippi. What he actually said was: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations”

So the issue is not actually whether or not the idea is original, it’s the application of the idea that matters and how in turn that application is interpreted by others. For example, during the crash, economists warned us against the ‘Paradox of Thrift’ – the term given to our tendency as consumers during the recession to individually tighten our household spending belt. That makes financial sense for us individually in the short term, but is collectively bad for the economy in terms of consumer spending, which means it’s actually bad for us in the long term.

To put it simply – we as consumers were crowdfunding the economy. Then when the banks went belly-up and busted, we stopped crowdfunding the economy which meant consumer spending collapsed and the retail industry nosedived.

We crowdfund the sports teams we support, the restaurants we eat in, the roads we drive along, the trains we ride on – much in the same way that we crowdfunded those magnificent steamboats that ploughed through the majestic Mississippi.

So crowdfunding is essentially nothing new. In keeping with our steamboat captain’s observation, we’ve simply put the idea into a “mental kaleidoscope, given it a turn and come up with a new and curious combination”.

But those steamboats are gone. The age of steam power travel gave way to the age of the combustion engine. Much in the same way that conventional property ownership is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We’re repeatedly told that the average house is now unaffordable to most first-time buyers and that within 10 years will be unaffordable to any but the mega-rich.

But there is always another way. Our steamboat captain knew that more keenly than most. But rather than resign himself to the scrap heap of steam power, he turned his own ‘mental kaleidoscope’, gave himself the pseudonym Mark Twain and became a giant of American literature.

Perhaps crowd-funding is what could happen if we give our collective ‘mental kaleidoscope’ a turn.

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