The law has long confined the average investor to trading in public securitieswhile allowing wealthy—or “accredited”—individual investors access to a panoply of private securities, including investment vehicles such as hedge funds and private equity funds. Nevertheless, pressure to let the general public into private equity has been growing. Two forces have contributed to this mounting pressure. First, public investors are eager to try their hand at investing in private enterprise. Second, private firms need capital. In the face of these forces, the sharp line that has long separated public and private firms has become increasingly blurred

Consider the story of the emerging growth company (EGC), or “Initial Public Offering (IPO) on-ramp,” provision of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act). In its first few months on the books, this provision had effects far different from what its drafters envisioned. The JOBS Act’s IPO on-ramp was intended to ease regular companies’ path to going public; instead, it has inadvertently made it easier for the average investor to get a taste of private equity via special purpose acquisition corporations (SPACs). This piece will briefly describe SPACs, the IPO on-ramp, and how shell companies have taken advantage of a legislative provision intended to bring cash-hungry young companies directly to market. This piece will close with a few thoughts on lessons the story of SPACs’ interaction with the JOBS Act may offer regarding the increasingly indistinct line that divides public and private investment.