Unlike some left-wing outfits, we won’t waste your time this Thanksgiving lecturing you about how to talk about politics with your family.
However, we did want to share a classic article on the free-market origins of Thanksgiving.
Plantation leaders showed their immense lack of knowledge regarding basic economic principles. Plymouth County Governor William Bradford wrote that, “the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing.” That clearly was not the case, since the Pilgrims experienced great despair and massive food shortages for several years.
The Plymouth Plantation lacked the appropriate incentive structure. As economics professor Benjamin Powell writes, “bad weather or lack of farming knowledge did not cause the pilgrims’ shortages. Bad economic incentives did.” Many Pilgrims faked illness or stole instead of working in the fields to produce food. William Bradford later wrote that the colony was filled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” He stated that the crops were so small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”
William Bradford finally decided to change course by implementing a new economic system in 1623. He assigned “every family a parcel of land” to do with it as they saw fit and the results were nothing short of miraculous. For the first time in the New World, families could enjoy the fruits of their labor. While it was not a complete private property system, the move away from collectivism saved the Pilgrims. As Governor William Bradford wrote that year, “instead of famine now God gave them plenty.”
Never again did the Pilgrims face widespread starvation and food shortages. Governor William Bradford wrote that this more capitalist system “had very good success for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come…the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many.” The colonists actually produced so much food in 1623 that they started exporting corn. The Pilgrims were able to celebrate all of their blessings with plentiful feasts.
The real story of Thanksgiving shows why freedom works and collectivism doesn’t. Let us not forget the lessons of colonial America: collectivism will always fail to produce a happy and prosperous society.
We hope politicians and bureaucrats will remember this lesson in 2015. On the off chance they forget, we’ll be here to remind them.