Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Popular Philanthropy?

“No man becomes rich unless he enriches others.”
It has been hugely encouraging to see premier crowd-funding website Kickstarter expand its operations into the United Kingdom over the last month, and by all accounts things have been going well.

More than forty-five thousand people have pledged sums amounting to more than two million pounds in support of over 400 projects.

The most popular so far has been Frontier Developments' epic space game Elite: Dangerous, which has amassed hundreds of thousands of pounds in pledges.

Other standouts include Picade, a do-it-yourself arcade cabinet kit; Good and Proper Tea, a loose-leaf tea shop mounted in a 1974 Citroën H Van; and Projecteo, a tiny projector for showing Instagram photos copied to miniature reels of 35mm slide film.

In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher hoped that the removal of the nationalised industries from state control would usher in an era of popular capitalism, with ownership of the economy being transferred from Whitehall bureaucrats to the British public.

In many ways, she was remarkably successful; raising substantial amounts of revenue for the Exchequer and more than tripling the proportion of the population owning shares:

However, following her forced departure from office, it would be fair to say that continued progress has stalled.  The stock market remains remote from most people, and its workings opaque.

Indeed, the Labour Party's embrace of "people getting filthy rich", following its election in 1997 did not see the United Kingdom's iconic firms and industries passing into the hands of ordinary working Britons. 

Instead, they have increasingly gone to American financiers, Indian billionaires and Qatari oil sheiks — or, worse, to the wall.

Kickstarter, however, has enabled something other than popular capitalism: popular philantrhopy.  If we cannot yet become a nation of shareholders, we can at least become something like a nation of not-for-profit angel investors — or dragons.  

We can all be thankful for online crowdfunding enabling the greatest expansion of Edmund Burke's "little platoons" into the economic life of the kingdom for many years.  That the feat owes nothing to the State, nor even to political free marketeers like Baroness Thatcher, is something for firms like Kickstarter to be proud of. 

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