“An Undertaking Of Great Advantage”: Or, Kickstarter Is A 300-Year-Old Scam

by evanmcmurry

Quoted in David Graeber’s Debt, in a segment on the burst of joint-stock offerings that occurred in England at the advent of capitalism:

The most absurd and preposterous of all, and which shewed, more completely than any other, the utter madness of people, was one started by an unknown adventurer, entitled “A company for the carrying on of an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is.”

The man of genius who essayed this bold and successful inroad upon public credulity merely stated in his prospectus that the required capital was half a million, in five thousand shares of 100l. each, deposit 2l. per share. Each subscriber, paying his deposit, would be entitled to 100l. per annum per share. How this immense profit was to be obtained, he would not condescend to inform them at that time, but promised that in a month the full particulars would be duly announced, and call made for the remaining 98l. of the subscription. Next morning, at nine o’clock, this great man opened an office in Cornhill. Crowds beset his door, and when he shit up at three o’clock, he found that no less than one thousand shares had been subscribed for, and the deposits paid.

He was philosopher enough to be contented with his venture, and set off that same evening for the Continent. He was never heard of again.

Sound familiar?

In one of the most notorious failures yet, Josh Dibb of the band Animal Collective collected more than $25,000 from Kickstarter donors in December 2009 to travel to Mali and work on an anti-slavery movement. Almost three years later, the hundreds of donors to Dibb’s project have yet to receive any of the rewards they were promised. On August 21, Dan Rollman, a man who had supported the Malian endeavor, took to the project’s comments section to complain. “We are now approaching three years since your project was funded. Three years!” Rollman wrote. “You relied on the belief of strangers, who gave you over $25,000 so you could have a fun adventure in Africa. It’s truly disappointing.”