and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November #4

Pilgrims among first to recognize that socialism doesn't work
by Barbara Anderson and Chip Ford

The Salem News
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"The experience that was had in this common course and condition ... may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some 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. ... For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."

"Of Plymouth Plantation" (1620-1647), Gov. William Bradford

It started with the vision of John Winthrop, leader of the Mayflower Compact:  "We must delight in each other"; in other words, mutual responsibility should be the social lodestar, requiring everyone to keep in mind "our community as members of the same body."

Sounds like something Barack Obama would say, almost 400 years later.

So the Pilgrims attempted a socialist colony, with everything they produced going into a common warehouse, and their needs met out of supplies held in common.

No wonder they almost starved.

America's first experiment with socialism was an abject failure that cost the lives of more than half of the foundering settlers by 1627.  After living the liberal philosophy for half a decade of want, Gov. Bradford and the other founders of the Plymouth Plantation came to recognize that, despite their struggles, perseverance and faith, something was very wrong; something needed to change if they were to survive.

The concept of communitarianism was quickly rejected in favor of capitalism, and the colony subsequently thrived.  Bradford and his council established property rights and free enterprise, self-reliance and self-motivation, truly a new concept in this new frontier.  Immediately, the result of private industry was quantifiable:

"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," Bradford wrote.

As their social experiment in property rights and capitalism progressed it only got better.  The country thrived and eventually became the greatest nation on earth.

Still, many Americans who think the Pilgrim story is primarily about making friends with Native Americans, still believe that "spreading the wealth around," as Barack Obama described it to Joe the Plumber, is the best way to run a commonwealth.

According to Gov. Bradford, the wealth was spread from the "most able and fit" until this was "deemed a kind of slavery."  Keep in mind that the Pilgrim able and fit really were able there were no corporate con men talking their boards into outrageous salaries and bonuses as their companies collapsed.  They were forced to serve only the unfit and disabled; society had not yet evolved to cheerfully fund the kind of waste and corruption we see today.

And none of the Pilgrims were living beyond the means of the plantation or borrowing against their children's crops.  They would have been horrified to see what their descendants have done and become.

This Thanksgiving we celebrate a $14.3 trillion gross domestic product, the result of much hard work and entrepreneurship, as well as a whole lot of rampant consumerism.  Unfortunately, as individuals we spend not only what we have earned and carry in our wallets, we borrow in order to spend more not only for major purchases, but for vacations, sundries and doodads.  As a nation, we borrow not only from ourselves, but from the communist Chinese and oil-rich Arabs.

Our national debt is now more than $10 trillion, and this year's deficit is estimated to be at least another trillion.  We will soon owe as much as this year's national market value!

We asked an economist why anyone would lend to a country that seems so irresponsible and were told that the United States is still a good investment, because "it's too big to fail."  We've heard that before, not about just the original government bailout and General Motors, but now about Citigroup.  I imagine it was said about the Roman Empire, just before it collapsed from within and became overrun by barbarians.

Does history always repeat itself?  During the Thanksgiving holiday, we might consider something that isn't the usual "be thankful" holiday message:  The possibility that like the Pilgrims, we can reject what doesn't work, and move in another direction as they did.

Moving away from socialism isn't enough.  Capitalism in its pure form is the only economic system that is compatible with individual freedom, allowing as it does individual ownership with free-market enterprise decisions and free choices in allocating resources.

The United States approached this ideal, then allowed itself to become a "mixed" and "managed" economy with government involvement which now includes "bailouts."

Perhaps we can still turn ourselves around, renew our founding fathers' commitment to property rights, free enterprise, self-reliance and self-motivation, and choose to share with the less fortunate; while rejecting the politics, entitlement demands, creeping greed, fiscal irresponsibility and lack of integrity that got us to where we are today.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson's
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.