“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.” (1Chronicles 16:34)
It’s an odd sort of mood I was in this last week of November, 2019, leading into the Thanksgiving holiday. I got to thinking about the changing America we live in. When I was growing up – born in the 1950s and a child of the 60’s and early 70s – we, for the most part, all knew one thing: God, whether we were really Christian or not, was really good – and – Communism was really bad. Those were the guys who put up walls to keep you in (the Berlin Wall being the most famous example) – shot you if you wanted to leave, put you in camps in Siberia, murdered millions of their own people….etc, etc. You didn’t have to think about it very long to understand that. Then everything started to change. What was good started to be defined as bad. Somehow, America lost its way.
Socialism is still really bad. (I mean, just look at North Korea and China and Venezuela!) But despite recognizing that socialism brings with it a host of issues – like state controlled media and dictatorship – a poll conducted in 2019 showed that about 40% of Americans would prefer living in a socialist country. The number goes up to 55% when you look at just women.[i] This anti-capitalist bent toward socialism manifests quite plainly among younger Americans, born in 1980 and afterward. Millennials and those belonging to Generation Z, favor a socialist system by over 49%.[ii] It would seem the lessons of Communist dictatorships with limited personal liberty and tens of millions of dead citizens is totally lost on those generations.
What brought this to mind is the story of Thanksgiving. I mean the real story of how some of the first English speaking settlers to this continent began their time here with a socialist model of society – and quickly had to abandon it in order to survive. The way the story is traditionally told, usually leaves out some key facts. This is true in Plymouth, with the Pilgrims that celebrated the first Thanksgiving – as well as the first settlement in Jamestown. They both started out as socialists – and those experiments – both of them – were miserable failures.
Here’s the story. The Mayflower shipped out of England on August 1st, 1620. That’s late in the year. So they wouldn’t be able to plant crops until the following spring. There were 102 on board, 40 of them Pilgrims and William Bradford was their leader. They had been sponsored by London merchants who had a hand in drawing up guidelines by which they would be governed. Now while on board they drew up the Mayflower Compact, which dedicated the colony to God, but the economic system by which they would operate was definitely socialist in nature.
Now the first winter was very bad. They lost about half their number to hunger and disease, including Bradford’s wife. Then came spring, and the Indians showed them how to survive in the harsh environment; how to successfully grow corn and how to fish. But there was still a problem – and that was socialism. Everything was to be held by the community in a common store. Then everyone would get the same share. So their houses and their fields and crops all belonged to the commune. [Starting to sound familiar?] Well what happened could have been predicted. It would happen later in the USSR and other Communist nations. There was no incentive to work. And so little work was done. Crops were small. And they really didn’t have enough to make it through the winter…again. According to the agreement signed with their London sponsors, “all profits & benefits that are got by trade , working, fishing, or any other means” became part of the common stock. They were to get all their supplies from this common stock. They were to take only what was needed. It was the forerunner of the principle developed by Karl Marx which says: “ From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”[iii] Of course, that stupidly ignores human nature. In Plymouth, those with the most ability and industriousness refused to work to better others with their efforts.
Governor Bradford knew he needed to do something. “This community was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and to retard much employment that would otherwise have been to its benefit and comfort. Young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine [complain] that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without compensation.” So he did the smart thing and ended the socialist experiment. People were given their own lots to work and they would keep the fruit of their labor. And guess what? All of a sudden they were producing a surplus of food that met not only their own needs by the excess could be used in trade. In some cases they were producing 10 times as much corn as before.
This same truth was proved earlier in Jamestown, settled in 1607. Each year since its founding, the colony would lose half of its new colonists within 12 months of their arrival. The winter of 1609-10 was called “The Starving Time” when the population went from 500 to 60. And then, presto-change-o they discarded socialism and went to a free economy – and the same thing happened. There was a dramatic increase in production and prosperity. Free markets work….as Rush would say it….every time they are tried.[iv]
Still, the lure of ‘Everything Free’ is a powerful drug offered by Ocasio Cortez and Bernie Sanders and their acolytes. It is beguiling the youthful with wishful thoughts of a perfect society. But let’s consider the real by-products of the socialist-communist systems. Dictatorships, Siberia, slaughter of the Kulaks, tens of millions dead in China, millions in Cambodia, Re-education camps in Viet Nam, the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain. Americans would do well to remember their history.
[i] Four in 10 Americans prefer socialism to capitalism, poll finds, The Guardian, June 10, 2019
[ii] Stef W Kight, Exclusive poll: Young Americans are embracing socialism, Axios, March 10, 2019
[iii] Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875
[iv] Richard J Maybury, The Great Thanksgiving Hoax, Lew Rockwell, November 24, 2011