This may make someone choke on his turkey – I hope so

Rabbi Schlovenek blesses the masses (and a few visiting Sioux, apparently)

How private property saved the Pilgrims from starvation.

Today is Thanksgiving. And there is no better time to remember an underappreciated lesson of the original Thanksgiving: that the Pilgrims nearly starved to death because of collectivism and eventually saved themselves by adopting a system of private property. Economist Benjamin Powell tells the story in here:

Many people believe that after suffering through a severe winter, the Pilgrims’ food shortages were resolved the following spring when the Native Americans taught them to plant corn and a Thanksgiving celebration resulted. In fact, the pilgrims continued to face chronic food shortages for three years until the harvest of 1623. Bad weather or lack of farming knowledge did not cause the pilgrims’ shortages. Bad economic incentives did.

In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. Governor William Bradford, in his 1647 history, Of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that this system was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. The problem was that young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.

Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. While not a complete private property system, the move away from communal ownership had dramatic results.

This change, Bradford wrote, had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. Giving people economic incentives changed their behavior. Once the new system of property rights was in place, the women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability.

Once the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation abandoned their communal economic system and adopted one with greater individual property rights, they never again faced the starvation and food shortages of the first three years. It was only after allowing greater property rights that they could feast without worrying that famine was just around the corner.

For a more detailed account, see this 1999 article by Tom Bethell.

[check out that painting – in addition to the rabbi, our artist has added a couple of the red-skinned savages adorned with with war bonnets, a fashion of western, not eastern Indians. Cool!]

3 Comments

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3 responses to “This may make someone choke on his turkey – I hope so

  1. Chief Sachem

    How ironic that that ridiculous article was from the Hoover Institute. There is so much political claptrap about this “holiday” that I am have trouble digesting my acorn meal gruel. We probably didn’t boil the acorns long enough.

    Let it be said in all seriousness that there are no private property rights – ever, at all, no how. There is only the military, political, and religious doctrinaire illusion of such rights. Those Pilgrims came here seeking escape from the cultural enforcement of those illusions in Europe.

    My so-called “Indian” brothers, from whom the new settlers ripped away land by force and firearms, had lived here for millennial eons of time without any such notions of private property.

    The Great Spirit now seeks the return of what is his possession, and he will have it. Turkeys belong to the forest and the air. Acorns fall to Earth to feed Indians, turkeys, and new forests alike.

  2. kidding really?

    Chris – you see Dubai serving Black Swan for Thanksgiving? This story is bad and could become a much bigger story as debt chain break might cause some real selling in global markets especially financial stocks.

  3. Anonymous

    “you see Dubai serving Black Swan for Thanksgiving?”

    My wife threatened to call an ambulance to pick me up if I wouldn’t stop laughing.