19 December 2013

From an Economy of Mass Consumption to an Economy of Mass Investment

Economy Market found or created Start
1st, Agricultural Market created for goods made by individuals ~1300
2nd, Industrial Systematically produce or manufacture goods ~1700
3rd, Information Market created for equities made by individuals ~1900
4th, Entrepreneurial Systematically produce equities ~2000

It was in about 1300 that Trade Fairs - essentially intermittent malls - had become normal for some Dutch and Italians. In the first economy, goods were rare and sold infrequently.

It wasn't until about 500 years later - in the late 18th century -that textile mills began manufacturing goods in large quantities, and more than a century after that that factories began to produce goods as varied as bicycles, canned goods, cars and radios. In the the second economy, goods were made on a large scale rather than just harvested and brought to market or custom made by artisans. Goods were produced systematically and for far more people.

During the 20th century, access to equity markets was democratized and the stock market grew. First elites and then knowledge workers bought stock in the growing number of corporations. After the stock market crash of 1929, it took quite a while for the average person to get back into the market. Equity markets developed much more quickly than product markets but still  slowly by the standard of the average lifetime.

Early in this century, in the emergent fourth economy, we're witnessing something with equity products that parallels consumer goods in the second economy. Equity goods are now being made for consumption, for equity markets, in the same way that manufactured goods began to be made in the second economy. What was once rare - an IPO or the creation of a new company - has become increasingly common.

Venture Capital IPOs have hit their highest level since 2000, up nearly 40% this year. Even so, it seems as though venture capital fund raising is down over the last couple of years. In 2012, global VC investment was $41.5 billion, down from $51.7 billion in 2011. In 1975, VC funding totaled only $10 million. By 2005 it had reached $21.7 billion, an annual increase of nearly 30% a year. And now, less than a decade later, it is more than double that. Year to year variation aside, VCs have transformed business. In spite of variation, venture capital is now a force and there is an entire industry intent on creating equity from scratch. The creation of products or companies is almost incidental to the intentional creation of equity. Just as business innovators found ways to create factories that could regularly produce new products about a century ago, today's business innovators are experimenting with ways to regularly create equity.

One reason for the popularization of entrepreneurship is that markets for equity have evolved, just as markets for goods evolved centuries ago. This suggests massive potential for the creation of wealth for innovators able to pull off this next round of social invention, creating the ecosystem of VCs and startups, incubators, corporations, and investment bankers able to mass manufacture the creation of equity products.

It's possible that what happened to goods in the first two economies will happen to equities in the last two.

In the first economy, trade fairs sold goods made by individual artisans. Products were rare. In the second economy, stores sold goods made in factories. Products were abundant.

In the third economy, equity goods were made by individual entrepreneurs. Equity - new equity -was rare. In the fourth economy, ecosystems will emerge that are able to systematically create equity. We could move from an age of mass consumption into an age of mass investment. That could make things interesting.

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