Thursday, May 8, 2014

Syllogisms aside (Updated 5/8/2014)

(This was originally written in 2011? I updated it because, well, it sucked. It's a bit better now, but there is always room for improvement.)

I like the concept of crowd-sourcing; the idea of a group of people getting together because their convictions are so strong that they are willing to invest time and effort to make it happen. It’s something they can’t teach you in school; not because they don’t want to, but because finding convictions is a private affair—no one can initiate and undertake such a task but one’s self.

The intrinsic interest is something, if taught, would defeat its purpose.

At most, the prominent educators suggest that we quest in life; some, upon such daring suggestions, were forced to drink the proverbial hemlock to avoid more unpleasant outcomes.   

So while we learn how to solve equations, syllogisms, and while we analyze contexts in our informally regulated educational system, we are left empty-handed as to what we must do to change the world. 

Setting aside teachers’ grievances; there are other forces that makes the world turn for the better. When the United States passed its JOBS Act allowing equity based crowdfunding a few years ago, some speculated the opportunities:
[Take] Solar Mosaic, for example, was . . . funded on the concept that many environmentally-motivated people would help finance local solar projects with 0% interest loans.  They succeeded in building several projects, but the model is constrained by the limited universe of people who have money at hand and are willing to let it be used for no reward.
John Farrell, Crowd Funding forCommunity Power?

Today, there are already crowdfunded renewable energy companies that are crowdfunded in England - Abundance Generation.

These things are entirely possible here in the States. The JOBS Act allows for crowdfunding if the project raises no more than $1 million and the project owner discloses tax returns, have financial statements reviewed by an accountant, or provide fully audited financial statements. Mr. Farrell correctly pointed out that this scheme won’t help the wind industry much since a single turbine would exceed the dollar limit, but he does indicate possible changes to SEC exemption Regulation A that could make things interesting. (See this 2007 report on wind energy ownership and then this article on the changes to Regulation A).

The SEC will likely implement some regulations in late 2014. There will be significant disclosure requirements because the public needs to be protected from fraud or other mishaps. There will be significant legal fees associated with compliance or litigation. Mr. Farrell projects upfront legal costs to be around $10 – $15K; and that's probably aside from paying tax lawyers to maneuver the federal incentive taxes. In some sense, this is a sort of skin-in-the-game to sort out the fraudsters who aren't willing to pay the fees. What's left are the big fish fraudsters, sophisticated ones.

Aside from concerns for fraud, the JOBS Act does present opportunities. The Act is not here to create jobs directly. Media makes it sound like, poof, the rules comes out and now we have jobs. It is there to help us create jobs for ourselves. It gives us a chance. We, the crowd, find ourselves now in a position to create better, smaller, and more efficient machines to rune our lives. We find ourselves beyond the kingdom of corporations into something different.

I attended a symposium recently. One of the presenter gave me something to ponder. During his presentation, he began to take off his jacket. Then it was his tie, then shirt, then pants. Thank god he has a t-shirt and pants underneath. At the end of his presentation he explained: "you all were wondering what is this guy doing on stage. But that's the point. Nobody knows what will happen next. This whole new equity crowdfunding trend can really give the poor a chance. After all, why should only the rich get the chance to make money?"

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