We Should Be Thankful for Private Property

The pilgrims almost starved themselves to death with their experiment in communal ownership.

Had today's politicians and opinion-makers been in power four centuries ago, Americans might celebrate "Starvation Day" this week, not Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims started out with communal property rules. When they first settled at Plymouth, they were told: "Share everything, share the work, and we'll share the harvest."

The colony's contract said their new settlement was to be a "common." Everyone was to receive necessities out of the common stock. There was to be little individual property.

That wasn't the only thing about the Plymouth Colony that sounds like it was from Karl Marx: Its labor was to be organized according to the different capabilities of the settlers. People would produce according to their abilities and consume according to their needs. That sure sounds fair.

They nearly starved and created what economists call the "tragedy of the commons."

If people can access the same stuff by working less, they will. Plymouth settlers faked illness instead of working the common property. The harvest was meager, and for two years, there was famine. But then, after the colony's governor, William Bradford, wrote that they should "set corn every man for his own particular," they dropped the commons idea. He assigned to every family a parcel of land to treat as its own.

The results were dramatic. Much more corn was planted. Instead of famine, there was plenty. Thanks to private property, they got food -- and thanks to it, we have food today.

This doesn't mean Pilgrims themselves saw the broader economic implications of what they'd been through. "I don't think they were celebrating Thanksgiving because they'd realized that capitalism works and communal property is a failure," says economist Russ Roberts. "I think they were just happy to be alive."

I wish people understood. This idea that happiness and equality lie in banding together and doing things as a commune is appealing. It's the principle behind the Soviet Union, Medicare, the Vietnam War, Obamacare and so on. Some communal central planning is helpful, but too much is dangerous. The Pilgrims weren't the first settlers on the East Coast of the New World to make this mistake.

Just a few years before, the colony of Jamestown was almost wiped out by the same idea.

Historian Edmund S. Morgan, in "American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia," describes what happened in 1609-1610: "There are 500 people in the colony now. And they are starving. They scour the woods listlessly for nuts, roots and berries. And they offer the only authentic examples of cannibalism witnessed in Virginia. One provident man chops up his wife and salts down the pieces. Others dig up graves to eat the corpses. By spring only sixty are left alive."

After that season, the colony was abandoned for years.

The lesson that a commons is often undesirable is all around us. What image comes to mind if I write "public toilet"? Consider traffic congestion and poor upkeep of many publicly owned roads. But most people don't understand that the solution is private property.

When natural resources, such as fish and trees, dwindle, the first impulse is to say, "Stop capitalism. Make those things public property." But they already are public -- that's the problem.

If no one owns the fishing rights to a given part of the ocean -- or the exclusive, long-term logging rights to part of the forest -- people have an incentive to get there first and take all they can before the next guy does. Resources are overused instead of conserved. We don't maintain others' property the way we maintain our own.

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  • fish_remote||

    They nearly starved and created what economists call the "tragedy of the commons."

    Only because they didn't have access to affordable health care and subsidized child care.

  • ||

    Yeah, if someone in the commune was only forced to give medical care, the tragedy of the commons would've been avoided.

    -Progtard who will never see the contradiction

  • miley820||

    Im being thankful.. Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. On sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out www.Buzz95.com

  • OneOut||

    If they had had free birth control there would have been fewer mouths to feed.

    Problem solved

    /sarc

  • ||

    "Some communal central planning is helpful, but too much is dangerous."

    Please stop putting these qualifiers in there. Unless you're specific, it gives people too much discretion. By this definition, someone can say, "Yeah, see Medicare and stuff is helpful, it's just the stuff I don't like that isn't."

  • CE||

    Communal central planning is always helpful, if you want to get your hands on other people's stuff.

  • Tony||

    Anyone but an anarchist must accept that qualifier.

  • Swiss Servator, referendiffic!||

    Assertion with no evidence ...BZZZT!

  • Tony||

    If you believe in property rights--or making murder illegal for that matter--you endorse communal central planning to a degree.

  • Tonio||

    BZZZT! Central planning is setting goals for what will happen, and forcing everyone to participate in the realization of those goals. Enforcement of laws against murder has no inherent goals (ie, ten convictions per year). The only people coerced to participate in the enforcement of laws agains murder are the accused, the witnesses (for a very brief period of time) and jurors (likewise, though perhaps less briefly).

  • Tony||

    Really? The goal of outlawing murder is to minimize murder in a society. You're restricting people's liberty to murder for a social goal. That this is the most obvious example of central planning means both that I'm right about you guys needing it and that most probably the list of things needing central planning extends far beyond outlawing murder.

    Are you articulating a new libertarian principle--that coercion is OK as long as it's not everybody? Because I don't get that second bit at all.

  • FreeToFear||

    No Libertarian ever has said that there exists, in a state of nature, a liberty to murder. Personhood and the right to life is sacrosanct. The only justifiable use of coercive force is to extract compensation commensurate with rights violated upon your person - your right to life entitles you to legitimate self defense, not to mow down your neighbors in the street for no reason - because of this, there is no restriction of liberty in enforcing murder, as there is no natural right to murder.

  • Harvard||

    [Personhood and the right to life is sacrosanct]

    Such a statement causes apoplexy in the liberal, abortion rights, mind.

  • Tony||

    Keep your religion off my body.

  • Great+Grandma||

    Hurray! for your sensible and oh-so-right comments!!!

  • soflarider||

    Murder is unacceptable because societal mores accept this as the norm. Government sets it as law. Murder is not unacceptable because the government says so. The government is the instrument of the people. Maybe you picked a poor example to provide support for the concept of central planning.
    Central planning may ostensibly be done in the name of the greater good but in reality it is the will of the few, enforced upon the many, generally by an authoritarian government.
    As the article says, some amount of central planning is good, the key is finding a balance.
    For instance, some would say that when a small political majority has to resort to tricks to pass legislation that is wildly unpopular, they have overstepped their bounds and exposed the flaw in central planning.
    Should we even touch on how the leader of this small majority lied to get the unpopular legislation passed or how condescending his disciples are when the deception and missteps in implementation are pointed out? Fascists tend to get defensive and angry when their plans are spoiled by the little people.

  • Smack MacDougal||

    First. Which society? Society means friendly association. People living under rule aren't necessarily in friendly association. Almost all Americans aren't in society.

    You conflate the word society with the words nation, a people. So, you ought to learn the words of Latinate English before you attempt to express yourself with such words.

    Second. The goal of outlawing murder is to provide justification, which most would agree is right, to apprehend a murderer in effort to stop her or him from committing additional murders. For if anyone could murder with impunity, murder would become the means for power acquisition and power retention.

    You ought to stop chattering about politics, Tony, because you don't get power and politics at all.

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    You're restricting people's liberty to murder for a social goal. That this is the most obvious example of central planning means both that I'm right about you guys needing it and that most probably the list of things needing central planning extends far beyond outlawing murder.

    Sorry, but when people refer to "central planning," that's usually short for "central economic planning", i.e., a command economy. You seem to enjoy bastardizing the term "central planning" to encompass any "social goal", which I assume would be any law that ostensibly has a purpose, i.e. all of them. Which you think allows you to say ridiculous things like:

    "If you believe in property rights--or making murder illegal for that matter--you endorse communal central planning to a degree," people needing it, etc. In fact, since you believe that rights only exist as defined by government, your statement reduces to a truism, or, in other words, just a re-statement of your assumptions: "If you believe in law, or other law, then you endorse law." Duh.

    When examining your assumptions reveals that all the clever arguments you're making are really just restating the same initial assumption over and over again, you may want to check and make sure that you're not adopting a ridiculously simple world view. Because saying "law law law" over and over again may feel like you're saying something, but you're really not.

  • Tony||

    All I'm saying is libertarians are completely full of shit.

    You can easily avoid being a walking hypocrisy by not identifying with such a dumb philosophy.

  • Procrastinatus||

    Tony's kind of right here. If you are a Libertarian, and you're not an anarchist, you do support some aggression. You do support a, however small, coercive state funded by the conercion of taxes from people who may not want to pay.

    But at least there is a philosophy. There is a principal to attain to, even if we don't quite reach it. More importantly there's a moral compass to actually hold our leaders accountable to, which is why Libertarians seem so critical of politicians on both isles. With a concrete philosophy of moral positives, we're not so naive when it comes to vague jingoisms and promises.

    I mean look at Tony here. Here's a guy who supports a President who is literally the worse corporate whore in history. His financial sector bailouts make Cheney's Halliburton deals look like child's play. This motherfucker raves about civil liberties while data mining Americans and drone striking children. This "anti war" Nobel peace prize winner could have pulled out of the Middle East on day one of his Presidency. This "anti torture" President force feeds guantanamo inmates.

    Yeah, Libertarian are hypocrites. Tony, you're a piece of shit just like your Team D cohorts. At least Libertarians have principals to fall short of.

  • Tony||

    While I don't wish to detract from your cogent appreciation of libertarian hypocrisy, you must appreciate that this hypocrisy spells death for the supposed libertarian principles while it doesn't so much as tarnish liberal ones.

    It's not principled to make an absolutist claim and then allow for some necessary contradictions of it. Just forego the absolutism!

    We're all for mixed economies. If libertarians would make a practical, pragmatic, evidenced-based defense of minimalist government, then I'd have very little to argue with them about. Instead they get on a high horse and then hand wave away the inescapable contradictions nipping at its ankles.

  • Brian||

    Tony, I want you to know that, I finally get the libertarian hypocrisy angle.

    Libertarians always believe "less government is always better." And, that's what I always believed, until you pointed out that I like laws against murder, and that law comes from government. But, if I always want less government, then I have to get rid of this law I like, and every other law, implying that I'm an anarchist. But, since I like some laws, I can't be an anarchist, so I'm a hypocrite.

    The whole time I was going around blindly thinking less government is always better, and it never occurred to me that this was contradicted by the parts of government I always like. How blind I was! I can't be a libertarian, because I don't want to be a hypocrite, or an anarchist.

    Let me see, there's only a few choices here: 1. anarchist, 2. democrat, 3. republican, and, maybe green party? I mean, I'd like to be in some political party that wants less government than all of those choices except for 1 (maybe, for limited government with respect to the current system and ones advocated by democrats and republicans. Too bad the only ones close are those libertarians, who want limited government, i.e., anarchy. If they didn't want anarchy, should they use the long limited government description, like I just did?

    Thanks for opening my eyes with your brilliant argument, Tony! Chalk one up. I'm sure there are many other converts out there just like me, that you should feel proud of!

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    If libertarians would make a practical, pragmatic, evidenced-based defense of minimalist government, then I'd have very little to argue with them about

    Because, clearly, no libertarian ever does this, ever.

    And, how do we know this? Because Tony tells us so. And he's the authority on practicality, pragmatism, and evidence.

    Of course, Tony thinks that morality doesn't exist, and believes ridiculous stories in the news whenever they happen to affirm his personal, subjective prejudices and world view. But, I trust him.

  • Procrastinatus||

    "you must appreciate that this hypocrisy spells death for the supposed libertarian principles while it doesn't so much as tarnish liberal ones"

    What liberal principles? I'm not being snarky, seriously. Spell them out for me. That's kind of my whole point Tony. We DO have principals to fall short of, and yet still hope that one day humans will evolve to the point of actually realizing them. You have catchphrases like "Hope and Change". "Principles" created and defined by your own leaders to be whatever they want them to be. If that's corporate bailouts and indefinite detention, that becomes your principles from whatever anti war and anti facist faux rage you guys had during the Bush administration. I mean, honestly Tony, do you think Libertarians would let their guy get away with that? Can you even answer that question honestly?

    So please, dear God, name me a concrete principle that liberals believe in. I would LOVE to, while this President is in office, examine those principles under the same microscope of hypocrisy.

  • Brian||

    Procrastinatus:

    f you are a Libertarian, and you're not an anarchist, you do support some aggression. You do support a, however small, coercive state funded by the conercion of taxes from people who may not want to pay.

    Well, that depends on how you define "government", and, that's frequently been the debate.

    If you define government as a group of people who assume a monopoly on the initiation of the use of force in a geographic area, then, yeah, any amount of that is aggression.

    However, some people define government as any group of people doing functions that the current government does, or that they would like them to do. So, if a group of people decide to defend their town, that's a government. Or if they find and jail a murder, that's a government.

    These people may or may not describe themselves in favor of a coercive government, or taxes, but would disagree with the idea that we should have no government, since they see government as defined by some "good" function being performed, instead of what or how it's performed.

  • Procrastinatus||

    "Well, that depends on how you define 'government'"

    Certainly. Most Libertarians I know want a minarchist society though, which means a small amount of coercion and a small amount of NAP voilation, if we're being honest about it. I think that's perfectly reasonable, if not absolutely ideologically pure. The argument of course is that liberty is maximized when it is protected by a government, and as such there is more liberty than in a purely anarchist society.

    I think the perfect analogy for the state, is a prison. Prison should only exist to punish aggressors. Now if I consent to and recognize the benefit of the existence of this prison, does that mean we should make it as extensive as possible? Should we imprison jaywalkers?

    Of course not. I recognize that while a prison may be benificial to society, it also has the peculiar characteristic of being the most benificial the smaller and less intrusive we can make it.

    Tony either doesn't understand this argument, or he does and simply doesn't want to argue in good faith. If we wanted to be as equally pedantic we could argue that his position is hypocritical because he doesn't want to centralize everything and abolish private property. If government is "good", it stands to reason that a government that controls everything is what he should want. Moar government = moar good. And we could have a thousand post thread attacking each other's strawman, and both feel equally confident about our political beliefs at the end of it.

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    All I'm saying is libertarians are completely full of shit.

    You can easily avoid being a walking hypocrisy by not identifying with such a dumb philosophy.

    Ah, the name calling ad hominems. That's always the last refuge, isn't it? The argument collapses to the equivalent of calling someone a poopyhead.

    Yeah, we see you calling people poopyheads. The real question is, why do you want this observed? Most sane, intelligent people with a modicum of self-respect would be embarrassed.

  • gaoxiaen||

    I was going to stick up for you and say that they're disagreeing with you just because you're Tony. But now I'm not. You're just a dumbass.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Which, of course, doesn't rule out a polycentric law system.

  • Tony||

    It doesn't rule out a council of psychic octopuses decreeing laws, but I don't know why we'd bother.

  • Jquip||

    Violence doesn't require a commons, it requires capability. And despite the notion being frowned upon, violence is no different than employment. You get out of it what you put into it.

    Communalism is specifically decoupling rewards and efforts. So why put in the effort if you get the reward anyways? Because that sounds like a job.

  • Azathoth!!||

    You always go to murder, Tony. Always. Tell me, do you really believe that, absent laws against murder, people would be out murdering all the time? That no one would value life enough to try and stop people going around randomly--or purposefully killing people?

  • Tony||

    If murder were legal there would be more murder. I think that's a safe claim.

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    If murder were legal there would be more murder. I think that's a safe claim.

    Then it's also a safe claim that murder is defined outside the law. Thank you very much.

  • Tony||

    Perhaps, but outside the law it's a matter of opinion.

  • Brian||

    Law: magically turning opinions into facts, through voting and violence.

    And, perhaps? For someone obsessed with libertarian contradictions, you seem to be backtracking on your "safe claim."

  • Aresen||

    They nearly starved and created what economists call the "tragedy of the commons."

    But they had income equality!!!

  • John||

    Ownership of property means people can borrow against it and take risks. That is what built the entire economy as we know it. The English common law is the greatest creator of human wealth in history. It is also one of the most misunderstood and unappreciated institutions. The whole system is based on ensuring clear ownership of wealth, protection of the rights that go with ownership, and ensuring there are no restraints of alienation so property flows to the party who has the greatest use for it. One of the things that made the medieval world so much poorer than the modern one was that most of the land was tied up in monasteries and royal estates and subject to restraints against alienation that kept it from ever being on the open market. The common law ended that.

  • CE||

    Also, they didn't have tractors and combines.

  • fish_remote||

    ....and quite obviously there were no ROADZ!

  • mtrueman||

    I've been using the Linux operating system for years now. I don't own it in any sense of the word I'm familiar with. It seems contrary to all the features of the common law you are celebrating.

  • Swiss Servator, referendiffic!||

    Remind me how the creator(s) of Linux were forced by state power to create and to give it away now?

  • mtrueman||

    I believe that the creators of Linux were mostly in universities and and their work was in large part of their academic requirements. Linus Torvalds, for example, was a student at the University of Helsinki, an institution, according to the wikipedia page, that "played a crucial role in building the nation state, and after WWII, the welfare state."

    As a student, he worked for free, or possibly even paid for the priviledge to work. Whether or not he was forced by state power to create it and give it away now is not the issue. I don't feel impoverished or deprived by using something that I don't own and didn't acquire in the market.

  • Brian||

    mrtrueman:

    I don't feel impoverished or deprived by using something that I don't own and didn't acquire in the market.

    But, practically no one who uses any software owns it. Everyone acquires it, in the market. You acquired it for the price set by its owners in the market: $0.

    What your point is, I really have no idea. I think you're presenting Linux as some counter-example to what was said by John, but, exactly which part free software contradicts, I have no idea. He's talking about the economy in general, and how it works. Linux != the economy.

  • mtrueman||

    "Linux as some counter-example to what was said by John, but, exactly which part free software contradicts, I have no idea."

    John said the creation of wealth relies on the clear ownership of property and the ability to put something on the market. The ownership of Linux is far from clear, and markets are only necessary to establish a fair price. If something is given away freely, a market is not necessary.

    You are on to something when you say that Linux is not the economy. Economics is the study of the uses put to scarce goods. Linux is not scarce. It is however a form of wealth, I would argue - a form of wealth that falls outside the rubric of economics.

    Sorry my point is not clear, but I'm really not sure I have one. I am responding to John's post with some ideas of my own, off the top of my head. I suppose, if pressed, I would say my point is to show how wealth creation can take place outside of the economy and the property regime. I think Linux is a fine example and people should be aware of it. Mustn't let yourself be blinkered by 17th century thinking.

    I've been quite happy with the tiny, quickly installable Puppy Linux, especially on older computers.
    http://www.puppylinux.com/
    Now I'm using Mint Linux.
    http://www.linuxmint.com/download.php

  • Brian||

    mtrueman:

    John said the creation of wealth relies on the clear ownership of property and the ability to put something on the market.

    Can you please quote the part of his post where he says this?

  • mtrueman||

    You really should read his comment yourself rather than relying on my word, but I will oblige you. He says:

    "The whole system is based on ensuring clear ownership of wealth, protection of the rights that go with ownership, and ensuring there are no restraints of alienation so property flows to the party who has the greatest use for it."

    I'm think that Linux is part of the whole system, has added to my wealth, and is not subject to some of the conditions that John is outlining here, namely a regime of ownership and the need for a market. Of course when considering Linux, we are up to our necks in collectivist waters, as I pointed out earlier on. But then our greatest achievements are collectivist efforts.

  • Brian||

    I'm think that Linux is part of the whole system

    Sorry, but this is not correct.

    John said:

    "The whole system is based on ensuring clear ownership of wealth, protection of the rights that go with ownership, and ensuring there are no restraints of alienation so property flows to the party who has the greatest use for it."

    This seems like a hasty generalization fallacy: our system deals with scarcity. The fact that Linux can be distributed effectively for free != the whole system can be based on distributing goods and services for free.

    Also, a market is (more or less) free people voluntarily exchanging goods and services. When Linux is created by a supplier and distributed freely to people at a price of $0, and this supply is consumed by people with demand, then that is a market. When you say we don't need a market to set a price when the price is $0, you're failing to notice that a price of $0 is being set. That counts as a price. You can say it doesn't need a market, but you're ignoring that it is a market, already.

    Also, the best way to interfere with this market of LInux priced at $0 would be to interfere in this market exchange: for example, have the government censor information and forbid the transfer of Linux between people. Or to add a tax to it, destroying it's freeness.

  • mtrueman||

    "The fact that Linux can be distributed effectively for free != the whole system can be based on distributing goods and services for free."

    You've misunderstood me. I don't mean that the whole system can be based on distributing goods for free. Part of it can. The Linux part, for a start. Any part that isn't constrained by scarcity is also free of the conditions of John's "whole system."

    I'm not sure where you are going in your second paragraph. You seem to be implying that the command economy of the CCCP was in fact a form of market economy, where the state set the prices. Whenever, wherever a price is set, a market is there. I thought that libertarian thought valued markets as a mechanism to fix a price. If the producers of Linux have already set the price a 0, a market is not necessary.

  • Brian||

    My point is that:
    "If the producers of Linux have already set the price a 0, a market is not necessary."

    This describes a market.

  • mtrueman||

    You say yourself that the producers have set the price. According to the Austrian economists, it is the market that sets the price.

    If I decide to give a birthday present to my wife. I decide not to charge her. I set the price of the gift at 0. Is there also a market operating here? If so, I'm beginning to think your conception of market is too broad. If you really believe that the CCCP was a market economy because the producers set the prices, that shows something is wrong.

  • Brian||

    mtrueman:

    You say yourself that the producers have set the price. According to the Austrian economists, it is the market that sets the price.

    Yes, and you agreed that the producers set the price, since you said:

    If the producers of Linux have already set the price a 0, a market is not necessary.

    From wikipedia's article on free market:

    In an unmeasurable qualitative sense, demand for an item (such as goods or services) refers to the market pressure from people trying to buy it. They will "bid" money for the item, while in return sellers offer the item for money. When the bid matches the offer, a transaction can easily occur...

    In a free market, producers dictate the price, just like buyers. Producers offer an item for a price, and buyers are willing to buy items for certain prices. When the price offered by a supplier is less than the price a buyer is willing to pay, then a free transaction between the two is likely to take place.

    Now, if a producer happens to value giving the world an item for a little in return as possible, and sets the price at $0, does this transform the system into a non-market? I don't think so. If the price for Linux was $.01, would it still be a market? Would dropping the price one more penny transform this situation into a non-market?

    (cont'd)

  • Brian||

    mtrueman:

    If so, I'm beginning to think your conception of market is too broad. If you really believe that the CCCP was a market economy because the producers set the prices, that shows something is wrong.

    I've stated it before: a market is (more or less) free people voluntarily exchanging goods and services. People supplying and consuming Linux for free is contained in this set, regardless of whether or not the suppliers want to make money.

    In such a market system, prices can emerge as suppliers and buyers interact.

    I never said that any process that sets a price is a market. You can think of you and your wife as a market, but the relationship between you and your wife isn't dominated by the laws of supply and demand (in all likelihood), so that would be a strange analysis.

    The CCCP wasn't a market economy because it lacks the freedom part of free people voluntarily engaging in exchanges and determining prices.

    If there's some part of some comment where you think I have stated that any time a price is set, that's a market, please let me know what exactly that is. Reading it back again, I don't see it.

  • mtrueman||

    I still think your concept of market is wanting. You don't appear to be able to distinguish between a product for sale and a gift. The price of a gift does not vary with supply and demand. A gift does not require that the giver and the taker both be free. The recipient of a gift need not even volunteer. The gift can come as a surprise and could even be unwanted. The price of a gift does not come about as an interaction between giver and receiver.

  • Brian||

    mtrueman:

    I still think your concept of market is wanting. You don't appear to be able to distinguish between a product for sale and a gift.

    Is that really important? A gift is something given for free, more or less, correct? How is that significantly different from a price of $0? You seem to require that a market be defined such that anything with a price set at $0 must be defined as "not a market". That's your problem, not the definition of markets. If you can show that markets must be defined that way, then go ahead, but pointing out that gifts might be included as markets doesn't really bother me to any great extent.

    The price of a gift does not come about as an interaction between giver and receiver.

    Yes, it does. The giver decides to offer the item for free. Is the recipient required to take it? The recipient could refuse. In fact, if the "gift" is a condo time share, the recipient may very likely refuse the gift, or even insist on a negative price (i.e., getting paid to take it off the givers hands).

    So, yes, the price of the gift does come about as an interaction between the giver and the receiver. The receiver always has the option of refusing the free gift. People refuse offers in markets all the time. It doesn't imply that there isn't a market.

  • Drake||

    Predatory lenders!

  • Sevo||

    OT, but let's be thankful the teachers put the childrunz first!
    "S.F. scrambles for subs as teachers skip school"
    [...]
    "More than 600 San Francisco teachers and classroom aides skipped school Tuesday to extend their Thanksgiving holiday, leaving district officials scrambling to find enough qualified adults to watch over students."
    http://www.sfgate.com/educatio.....014827.php

  • StuartHayashi||

    Mr. Stossel, I love your work. :-)

    I used to tell this story of Thanksgiving and privatization, quite happily, to my friends -- free-marketers and non-free-marketers alike.

    But what do you think of the New York Times's disputation of this story?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11.....d=all&_r=0

    I'm worried that this might be one of the few cases in which the New York Times is correct. :-/

  • John||

    The Pilgrims were religious fanatics trying to set up a religious utopia. They were totally socialist. And their socialism didn't work out very well for them. They ended up nearly starving and having to beg for food from the Indians.

  • CE||

    And the Indians were almost total anarchists, like Somalia. I wonder how they had food?

  • John||

    They had food because they lived there and were smart enough to know how to grow it and catch it. What people don't realize about both the Pilgrims and the first settlers at Jamestown is they were all form the city. None of them were even remotely prepared to live in the wilderness. The first settlers at Jamestown were mostly glass makers and tradesman. They were so stupid it never dawned on them that it was a really bad idea to live in a low lying area in a place as hot and humid as Virginia. "Hey, it is getting hot around here, I wonder why all of the Indians took off for higher ground last week?"

    The Pilgrims were not much better. They were all living in exile in Amsterdam. It would be like taking a bunch of hipster "urban farmers" out of Slope Park and setting them in Alaska and expecting them to survive on their own.

  • ||

    It would be like taking a bunch of hipster "urban farmers" out of Park Slope and setting them in Alaska and expecting them to survive on their own.

    Like Krakauer's "Into the Wild"?

    At any rate, that would make an awesome reality show. You would have no shortage of hipsters from Brooklyn who think they're perfectly prepared for a wilderness lifestyle.

  • Aresen||

    It would be a remake of Lord of the Flies.

  • Swiss Servator, referendiffic!||

    I'd rather it was a redo of the Donner Party.

  • Bob G.||

    But, but, those hipsters would have the best jackets from Columbia and L.L. Bean. They'd be totally ready for the wilderness.

    "Wait, what do you mean there's no 4G out here?!?!"

  • Juice||

    But that's the central point of the NYT column. The main reason that they starved for the first few years is because they were bad at what they were trying to do, not necessarily because of the communal system, which I'm sure didn't help. They eventually got better at what they were doing and survived. They also got rid of the communal system, which I'm sure helped a lot.

  • BigT||

    The NYT story doesn't dispute any of the facts. They were unsuccessful as socialists (communists) and became successful when they adopted private property. As much as they try to spin it, the story remains that socialism failed and private property succeeded.

  • John||

    Park Slope. Sorry.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    And the Indians were almost total anarchists, like Somalia. I wonder how they had food?

    Not the Powhatan. Hell, the chief was given a new "wife" each year to bear him another child.

  • Swiss Servator, referendiffic!||

    Its good to be the King Chief.

  • Tonio||

    anarchists, like Somalia

    "Anarchists," exactly like Somalia. In that Somalia has warlords (Chieftains), not actual anarchy.

  • Finchster||

    "The Americans have established Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers reached America. The English might very well establish another Thanksgiving Day; to celebrate the happy fact that the Pilgrim Fathers left England." - G.K. Chesterton.

  • The Heresiarch||

    I've read this, but the only sources cited are other historians, not source documents. When you click on the links, it takes you to a museum web site or a university professor's bio page. Until both sides show their source documents, I can't make the call.

  • CE||

    I don't need no stinkin' source documents. I'll go with the story that makes sense and matches other historical examples. When everyone owns something, it gets trashed. When the economy is centrally planned, people starve.

  • BigT||

    They have Bradford's diary and other writings. Only the Pickering interpretation relies on his projection from the present to the past.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: StuartHayashi,

    But what do you think of the New York Times's disputation of this story?


    The disputation is silly as it reads more like second-guessing from modern lefty historians of what Bradford was putting himself (an eye-witness) onto paper with ink rather than a true impeachment of his statement, not unlike the Groucho Marx's joke: "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"

    The fact is that no commune has ever survived more than one generation without a serious disruption in production due to indolence and jealousy. Some will point to such communal organizations like monasteries and churches, but be reminded that these were held together not by a trust in communal ownership but by religious conviction and discipline and because of a constant influx of contributions from the local parishioners.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The other thing was that it tried to refute it by stating that they were for-profit from the beginning. But a for-profit collective would have the same problems a non-profit would. Corporations work because there's a hierarchy and people understand the job they are there to perform. A collective where people can (or think they can) mooch off of other people's work will be dysfunctional no matter what it's labelled.

  • Tonio||

    FTFA: Rush Limbaugh repeats the Thanksgiving story of Plymouth every year...(Some details change; one year, he had the Pilgrims growing organic vegetables.)

    Well, they probably were practicing what would today be called organic farming, ie spreading compost, manure and fish skeletons on the fields. (Technically this is natural organic farming since the fertilizer is not chemically processed.)

    So, poor fact-checking and poor understanding of subject matter by the author.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If every farmer in the history of the world before the invention of chemically synthesized inorganic fertilizers weren't growing "organic" crops, then I'd like to know what this person this makes vegetables "organic".

    Oh, yeah. That's right, I forgot. It's the imprimatur of a Department of Ag. bureaucrat that magically transforms produce into "organic" super-hip and super-morally sanctimonious foodstuffs of which the consumption shall grant immortality.

  • Swiss Servator, referendiffic!||

    "super-hip and super-morally sanctimonious foodstuffs of which the consumption shall grant immortality."

    Wow!!! *runs to car and burns rubber heading toward Whole Foods*

  • Tonio||

    Yeah, I didn't want to get into the whole inorganic fertilizers thing because my brief research yielded a reference to "mined inorganic" fertilizers but no info on what those minerals are (other than lime not counting), etc.

    Apparently saltpeter is one of those inorganic mineral fertilizers. Presumably the Pilgrims had to acquire this somewhere to keep up their stocks of gunpowder, but I don't know whether they knew to use this as fertilizer or had access to sufficient quantities to do so.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    As saltpeter is what Europeans used to salt and preserve their meat since the Dark Ages, I would guess that the Pilgrims brought a bunch of it over on the Mayflower. However, I'm not sure if they, or anyone at that time, were aware of its use as fertilizer.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    He assigned to every family a parcel of land to treat as its own.

    And thus, HUD was born.

  • OldMexican||

    But most people don't understand that the solution is private property.


    Of course people understand the concept of private ownership. Even the most ardent anti-private property zealot will hold on to his possessions if surprised by a thief.

    Where people stray is when envy and jealousy take over rationality, as some see the possessions of his or her neighbor with suspicion and conclude that these are somehow undeserved or assume that they obtained by nefarious means rather than by production, ability or voluntary trade. The envious and the jealous conclude the world is in a state of imbalance; wrongs must be righted and justice made for those of lesser skills, less will or less ability. Being part of the machinery of balance is especially rewarding for those of narcissistic tendencies, which is why most do-gooders seek power and adulation. However, these actions still stem from nothing more than envy and jealousy, or evil, and not love.

  • trshmnstr||

    Agreed

  • The Other Kevin||

    Very well said. You can see the difference in these two mindsets:
    a) Those people over there do not have clean water or enough food. They are dying of starvation and disease. We must do something about it.
    b) Those people over there don't have as much stuff as some other people. That's not fair. We must do something about it.

    Too often people treat both as equivalent, when they are not. Mindset (a) is something a compassionate person should act on. Mindset (b) is just plain envy. Unfortunately it will still get votes.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Mindset (b) is just plain envy.

    And this is just another manifestation of that.

    'We need to change this strange mentality we are breeding in the U.S. and start celebrating people who are a result of hard work, dedication and discipline.

    'I’m not bashing those who are proud and overweight, I am empowering those who are proud and healthy to come out and be the real role models in our society.'

    I dunno, maybe we should start issuing "gym stamps"? If the bloated larvae that make up our parasitic class want Obamacare, then let's go balls to the walls with it.

    If you want one food stamp, then you need to have spent one gym stamp as an exchange, you lazy, fat, thieving piece of shit.

  • Tonio||

    They also draw a distinction between personal property and real property. It is the real property they have a problem with because all real property has been usurped from its rightful owners at least once.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Let's not get into the whole "War of the Northerners Conquering the Americans" thing again, OK? We get it. Let's move on.

  • Tonio||

    Huh? I think I missed that one.

  • Juice||

    O well, that's the nature of the beast. Whachagonnado?

  • Tonio||

    Exactly. Since any solution is going to be arbitrary, you pick the best practical starting point from which there were laws and records. So, colonial times in the USA.

  • Tony||

    And wasn't it kind for the previous occupants of that land to donate it in the spirit of economic growth.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    99.99 percent of the previous occupants died from as yet to be determined pandemic about 5 years before the Pilgrims came to these shores. The lands once belonging to the Patuxet were truly terra nullius by 1620.

    Learn history from an actual book as opposed to half-remembering a snarky comment on a HuffPo forum.

  • Swiss Servator, referendiffic!||

    So you think semi-nomadic, hunter-gathering is the most efficient use of land?

    Or are you just bitching that we 300M + Americans are all here? Back on the boat with ye then!

  • Tonio||

    Maybe not the most efficient, but event semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers (redundant, but whatever) have rights, too. Including the right to defend their land, make treaties, etc.

    Sending non-native Americans back to Europe (or whereever) is totally impractical. And the proggies know this, but it is a pretext for (wait for it) reparations!

  • Tonio||

    event even

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    So you think semi-nomadic, hunter-gathering is the most efficient use of land?

    Ignoring the stupidiTony for a moment, whatever your thoughts on what lifestyle is the most efficient for both prosperity, and, the maintenance of liberty, the fact is that the Pilgrims purchased their land from Massasoit, who was a willing seller of those plague-ridden lands. The tensions between the Pilgrims and the greater Wampanoag Confederation didn't occur until after Massasoit's death when the Confederation attempted to put pressure on their constituent chiefs and tribal leaders not to sell any more land to the European settlers. And setting aside the lesson of what happens when governments attempt to restrict free trade, this, in turn, led to a cooling off in relations and eventually led to the events of King Philip's War.

    Of course, history inquiry, being a multidimensional endeavor, doesn't appeal to the progressive (or conservative, in the traditional sense) mind, which isn't sophisticated enough to handle non-dualistic conception, thus they reduce the world's stage to a grand war of Light versus Darkness. Which is similar, of course, to a child's metaphysics and epistemology.

  • Tony||

    Point is everything you think you're at liberty to do without having to pay any taxes is owed to someone, somewhere, violently coercing someone. So pay your taxes and stop mooching.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|11.27.13 @ 3:32PM|#
    "Point is everything you think you're at liberty to do without having to pay any taxes is owed to someone, somewhere, violently coercing someone."

    Self-serving assertion absent evidence. I see you're warming up for T-day?

  • Brian||

    Point is everything you think you're at liberty to do without having to pay any taxes is owed to someone, somewhere, violently coercing someone.

    Not really.

    My wife and I are married. That's not due to violent coercion.

    You can try to make the whole "government keeps you from getting killed" argument, but that's incredibly weak.

    First, the highest court in the land has ruled that the police are not required to help you. So, the government doesn't even take keeping me safe as a responsibility.

    Second, did you ever notice that, when someone gets murdered or raped, people typically blame the murderer or rapist, i.e, they don't blame the government? If I am not murdered or raped, then how does that become owed to the government?

    So, if I avoid murder and rape, then I owe this to the government, but if I'm murdered and raped, then, it's the murderer/rapists fault?

    If I owe it to the government that I am safe, then it owes me if I am murdered or raped. The government does not take responsibility for this, so it is not owed anything. This statement just serves to give government credit for everything good in life, while simultaneously avoiding responsibility for the evil that people do. Sorry, but you can't even get where you want to go with that argument, and, even if you did, it would imply radical changes to our system, and I know you hate that.

  • Tony||

    The only claim I'm making is that libertarians are completely full of shit.

    So now property belongs to whomever can use it most efficiently?

  • Sevo||

    Tony|11.27.13 @ 3:28PM|#
    "The only claim I'm making is that libertarians are completely full of shit."

    Imbecilic opinions are accorded the proper weight here.

  • Brian||

    Tony:

    So now property belongs to whomever can use it most efficiently?

    Yeah, I see your point on this one: when libertarians talk like that, they sound like progressives.

    Taking land from the native americans is much more consistent with the progressive philosophy (or maybe I should just call it a tendency) to use efficiency as an excuse for the application of state violence into a market. It's not very consistent with libertarianism.

    In the 1700-1800's, progressives would just see the Trail of Tears as an effective application of eminent domain. Hey: we can't have native americans getting in the way of "public use".

  • Tonio||

    You are assuming that the Patuxet (or their ancestors) had "always" occupied that land and had done so without usurping any previous occupants. You can't know that.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    That's a good point which is addressed masterfully in bitbutter's short film You Can Always Leave. I didn't address it as by the time the Pilgrims arrived it was moot as the only Patuxet left was poor Squanto.

  • Tonio||

    Thanks, HM, and also thanks for the info on the Massasoit above.

  • Tony||

    My head is kind of spinning from the ethics of property being developed on the fly here. So it's OK to steal someone's land if they stole it previously? Guess it's open season.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|11.27.13 @ 3:30PM|#
    "My head is kind of spinning from the ethics of property being developed on the fly here"

    You could also just admit that what your reading is beyond your comprehension and doesn't fit in with the lies you commonly post. We know.

  • juliajuli145||

    until I looked at the check which was of $4814, I be certain that...my... mom in-law could actually bringing home money in there spare time on-line.. there aunt started doing this for under 20 months and at present cleared the debts on their appartment and got a top of the range Ford Mustang. why not try this out

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  • ReasonableS||

    Wow.
    Yes, let's be thankful for private property for what it does for us not some version of the Thanksgiving story that ignores other more major causes to the difficulties the Pilgrims experienced during the early years of their colony. This is why I don't respect Stossel. He is a showman not an informer.

  • MarshRabbit||

    Every year we hear the "Pilgrims were communists" bit. The story goes, when they arrived they shared everything so they were communists and they starved. Then they embraced capitalism and prospered. There is an element of truth. In a practice called The Common Course and Condition, the Pilgrims shared when they arrived in 1620. Supporters fail to say they arrived in November (i.e. winter). It was a winter in what climatologists call The Little Ice Age. All they had to live on was the rations they brought and the corn they stole from the Native Americans. Thanks to the cleared fields left by the Native Americans and a crash course in farming from Squanto, the harvest in 1621 was successful enough to celebrate with a feast we call Thanksgiving. After the feast, an inventory was done. They over estimated the harvest; rations had to be cut to survive the winter of 1621-1622. By the first Thanksgiving, half of the colonists had died in the "Great Sickness". Only four women lived to see Thanksgiving. Right after Thanksgiving 1621, the ship Fortune arrived with 35 new colonists, only three were women. Seven women were doing laundry for about eighty-five colonists. The women complained about doing laundry for all the bachelors. Individual plots were assigned, and everyone started to make their own way. They shared in order to survive, and they went capitalist when they were experienced enough farmers. In the end, it had as much to do with laundry as it did with economics.

  • Dan Clore||

    Stossel is only as good as his talking points.

    http://networkedblogs.com/RvgXE

  • Dan Clore||

    No, Stossel. The Pilgrims Were Starved by a Corporation, Not by Communism.
    Kevin Carson | November 27th, 2013

    Each year at this time somebody in the right-libertarian world, reenacting an obligatory Thanksgiving ritual, drags out the old chestnut about the Pilgrims at Plymouth almost starving from “communism” until private property rights and capitalism saved them. This year John Stossel (“We Should Be Thankful for Private Property,” Reason, Nov. 27) gets the honors.

    Etc.

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