Is Crowdfunding Inherently Unfair?

Ethan Zuckerman pens a thought provoking piece on the potential downsides of crowdfunding public improvement projects. Is there a way to avoid the unequal and government-shrinking effects of funding public projects through private contribution?
August 14, 2012, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Zuckerman, an avowed supporter of using the Internet to organize support for charitable efforts, invest in art projects, and fund businesses, explores his reservations with the rise of crowdsourcing sites oriented towards what Alexandra Lange calls "Kickstarter Urbanism". Whereas Lange expresses her pessimism about the ability of such sites to fund urbanism rather than products, however, Zuckerman's concern is not that such efforts can't be successful, but rather that they'll succeed in ways that exacerbate inequality in the United States. 

"Unless done very carefully, crowdfunding a city's projects is likely to favor wealthy neighborhoods over poor ones," writes Zuckerman. "People in poorer neighborhoods have less to spend on crowdfunding projects, and are less likely to have internet access."

For Zuckerman, the other danger inherent in crowdfunding connects to America's larger ideological battle over the role of government. "If crowdfunding parks succeeds, it supports the case that governments don't need to build parks because they'll get built anyway through the magic of civic crowdfunding. That, in turn, supports the Norquistian argument for a government small enough to drown in a bathtub, with services provided by the free market and by crowdfunding a thousand points of light."

Because civic crowdfunding isn't likely to go away any time soon, Zuckerman concludes by offering some ideas for how to "embrace civic crowdfunding and avoid the downsides."

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Published on Friday, August 10, 2012 in my heart's in accra
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