In 2002, I wrote a sci-fi short story titled Blockbuster that depicted a world in which individual people go IPO. In such a world, investors would want to start young, picking the winners early, funding their education and public launches in exchange for “stock” in the person and, effectively, a cut of their future earnings. I mean, if corporations can be people, then why can’t people be corporations?
It’s a dystopian vision, in which the main character, the most successful such funded individual in history, groomed from childhood for ultimate success, bankrupts himself in every possible way to finally become “fully self-owned.”
We should never do this in real life.
It’s not that there is no value in attending a top kindergarten, a great private school, the best ivy league university, the best startup incubator, etc… There’s generally a reason why these are vaunted. But when we place so much value on the promise of success vs. the actual evaluation of good ideas, we set ourselves up for a kind of “blockbuster effect” that plagues movies and books, in which only the most fundable ideas get supported, because no one wants to take a risk. Everyone wants a winner.
For example, the funding model sounds reasonable. Instead of a loan, individuals promise a cut of future earnings. Imagine if universities worked this way (ignoring alumni contributions, which are voluntary). Universities would by nature want to accept only students who will likely make a lot of money. And that would often mean picking students who start out with a lot of money, valuable connections, or who attended only the best kindergartens, etc..
And that’s unfortunately a lot like the admission process for the best ivy league universities already. Do we want all of life to be like that? What do we lose by focusing only on the fat head and losing the long tail?
Of course, there’s something to be said for bringing back the benefactor model, in which the wealthy don’t just invest in people (artists, writers, visionaries) for the sake of profit, but to make the world a richer place.