Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Today we'll talk about how Thanksgiving itself, almost never happened. I'm sure you've heard the story, but I hope to ad some principle and elaboration that normally doesn't accompany the tale.
When the first European settlers came to America, they were few in numbers, and in need of a system that could fulfill their needs. Keep in mind the time period we're talking about. This was the late 1600's, and the industrial revolution was an unimaginable future for a culture that had not yet developed past the basic necessities; Food, Water, and Shelter. This being Thanksgiving, we'll choose to focus on food.
While America is widely known as the bastion of Capitalism, it did not start that way. The early settlers were free, but that did not mean they automatically chose "private property" or "Capitalism" as their economic system of choice. The Pilgrims who had escaped the tyranny of their lands for a better place were indeed free, and they freely chose to live and work within a "communal" system. It was not dictated upon them by a massive and overreaching government. Instead, it was the natural decision of the people. One they had hoped would be the best way of providing a better lives for themselves, and their children.
Dr. Harold Pease noted for LibertyUnderFire.org in 2011-
William Bradford, the colony’s governor its first 30 years, wrote of the agreement between the Pilgrim passengers and the financial “Adventurers” in his book Of Plymouth Plantation. He noted that the seven-year contract signed July 1, 1620, before leaving Plymouth England, stipulated that the Pilgrims were to pool, for common benefit, “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons…” It further noted “that at the end of the seven years, the capital and profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chattels, be equally divided betwixt the Adventurers and Planters…” During this time the colonists were to “have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock and goods of the said colony.” It doesn’t get more socialistic than this because the government divvied out the goods and loafers received the same as those who worked.
The first two years the result was shortages and starvation. About half the colonists died. No one did more than the minimal because the incentive to excel was destroyed. The industrious were neutralized. Bradford wrote of the scarcity of food “no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any.” The socialist experiment Bradford added, “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to the benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense….”
The community's Governor, William Bradford, wrote in his diary "For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc., than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice.”
Here’s a relevant passage from page 165 of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick:
The fall of 1623 marked the end of Plymouth’s debilitating food shortages. For the last two planting seasons, the Pilgrims had grown crops communally–the approach first used at Jamestown and other English settlements. But as the disastrous harvest of the previous fall had shown, something drastic needed to be done to increase the annual yield.
In April, Bradford had decided that each household should be assigned its own plot to cultivate, with the understanding that each family kept whatever it grew. The change in attitude was stunning. Families were now willing to work much harder than they had ever worked before. In previous years, the men had tended the fields while the women tended the children at home. “The women now went willingly into the field,” Bradford wrote, “and took their little ones with them to set corn.” The Pilgrims had stumbled on the power of capitalism. Although the fortunes of the colony still teetered precariously in the years ahead, the inhabitants never again starved.
Why didn't "Communal Property" work?
The Pilgrims experienced something we know as "The Tragedy of the Commons." When everyone gets the same benefit regardless of their effort, they will naturally put in less effort. Human beings are like that. Socialism has long required the existence of purely selfless, virtuous, and altruistic people. Such people do not exist. This is the inherent cog in the wheel that always destroys Socialist societies. If you are not able to receive more reward for more work, you will not perform more work- It's just that simple.
Speaking at Middle Tennessee State University last week for Turning Point USA, Charlie and I (Good Morning Liberty) asked a group of students a very simple question: What if you showed up for your first day of class and the instructor said, "Okay everyone, I just want to let you know that regardless of your effort or participation, I'll be giving everyone an 'A'." Would you be more likely to put in extra effort, harder work, more time, etc., or would you be more likely to slack off, and do the bare minimum? That answer was obvious. If students were to receive the same outcome regardless of their effort, they would not put in the work previously required to pass the class. This same situation applies in all aspect of life. You could say at your job, "Hey employees, I just wanted to let you know that regardless of your willingness or ability to perform the tasks necessary to execute this job, I'll be paying you all the same. If you work harder, you will still receive the amount of money that those who don't even show up are going to receive." Would you still go to work? Would you still put in the same effort to be productive that you would have before this proposition?
This same principle was played out on the original American settlements. Regardless of your effort, you will all receive the same outcome. We see this in "Participation Trophies, Minimum Wage, Welfare, and so on. When the incentive structure required to convince people to exert effort is removed, people will not exert the same efforts.