How Unique Is VC's American History?
- Journal of Economic Literature (Forthcoming)
An American History offers a compelling chronicle of the development of professional venture capital (VC) in the United States, from VC-like forebearers as diverse as 18th century cotton manufacturing and 19th century whaling up to the state of the modern VC market at the turn of the millennium. The book emphasizes America’s enduring advantage in venture capital as a consequence of these early developments and as a practical governance solution for investing in the long-tailed returns of risky new ventures. In this essay we discuss similar historical precedent and governance arrangements in the spice trading voyages of the 16th and 17th century Dutch Republic, calling into question the uniqueness of the early American VC ancestors. Moreover, far from being a distinguishing feature of early ventures, long-tailed returns exist even in public equities, suggesting that the VC governance structure is about more than the distribution of returns. We conclude that the reasons for American dominance of contemporary VC remain unclear. Picking up where the book leaves off, we summarize facts and trends in 21st century venture capital.
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