Stossel’s column tells us yet again about the near-starvation of the Pilgrims in the early 1600’s, as they attempted a new life on this continent.
The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share the work and produce equally.
That’s why they nearly all starved.
Things had to change – and change drastically – to keep the colony from surely starving to death. And they did change. In honour of that change, and the celebration of their successful harvest, we have Thanksgiving.
As a country, we could make use of some of the changes the Pilgrims made.
What Plymouth suffered under communalism was what economists today call the tragedy of the commons. The problem has been known since ancient Greece. As Aristotle noted, “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.”
If individuals can take from a common pot regardless of how much they put in it, each person has an incentive to be a free-rider, to do as little as possible and take as much as possible because what one fails to take will be taken by someone else. Soon, the pot is empty.
It’s a lesson Uncle Sam is not just slow in learning, but seems determined NOT to learn.
The U.S. government has yet to apply the lesson to its first conquest, Native Americans. The U.S. government has held most Indian land in trust since the 19th century. This discourages initiative and risk-taking because, among other reasons, it can’t be used as collateral for loans. On Indian reservations, “private land is 40 to 90 percent more productive than land owned through the Bureau of Indian Affairs,” says economist Terry Anderson, executive director of PERC.
“Lost” lessons don’t have to stay lost.
I’ve been inspired by Rush’s telling of the Thanksgiving tale, too. He sorta got the Real Deal started a couple decades back…and others have come on board since. Read the transcript from his radio show here.