He or she is at it again. An electronic circular, originating elsewhere at Heritage and signed only “A Conservative,” marks Thanksgiving by recalling the Pilgrims’ fleeting flirtation with socialism 387 years ago — whilst establishing Plymouth Colony under William Bradford’s leadership. (“A Conservative” last week e-circulated thoughts on how the Electoral College benefits an ungrateful electorate.) Herewith the contents of the latest e-circular, headlined “Giving Thanks for Capitalism”:
When we bow our heads this week in thanks for our many blessings, we should recall the Pilgrims’ early lesson in the power of free markets. At first, the Pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621 held all goods and products in a “common stock” to be contributed and shared equally by all — in effect, socialism.
But after a three-year experiment, it was clear the system was failing miserably. Everyone was equal, but the Pilgrims took little comfort in the fact they were starving to death equally.
William Bradford, governor of Plymouth, wrote in his journal that the experience taught him:
the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by men of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.”
And so the Pilgrims, painfully aware they would not long survive under centralized management of their economy, changed the rules to allow for private property and provide the incentive of keeping the fruit of one’s labor. Bradford wrote:
This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.”
Plymouth soon began to thrive, happily transitioning from starvation and despair to surplus and hope. Before some of us begin claiming other people’s piece of the pie, let’s remember why the Pilgrims thought going cold turkey on socialism was a hot idea. Let’s spread the word—not the wealth.