It’s Thanksgiving day here in the United States.
That means I’m spending the day with family, but before I do I wanted to get a short note out to you.
It’s two short pieces from two of my favorite authors.
It explains the tragedy of Thanksgiving and I think you’ll enjoy it (or it will at least make you think!)
The Great Thanksgiving Hoax
By Richard Maybury
(originally published November 20, 1999.)
Each year at this time, schoolchildren all over America are taught the official Thanksgiving story, and newspapers, radio, TV, and magazines devote vast amounts of time and space to it. It is all very colorful and fascinating.
It is also very deceiving. This official story is nothing like what really happened. It is a fairy tale, a whitewashed and sanitized collection of half-truths which divert attention away from Thanksgiving’s real meaning.
The official story has the Pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, coming to America, and establishing the Plymouth colony in the winter of 1620–21. This first winter is hard, and half the colonists die. But the survivors are hard working and tenacious, and they learn new farming techniques from the Indians. The harvest of 1621 is bountiful. The pilgrims hold a celebration, and give thanks to God. They are grateful for the wonderful new abundant land He has given them.
The official story then has the Pilgrims living more or less happily ever after, each year repeating the first Thanksgiving. Other early colonies also have hard times at first, but they soon prosper and adopt the annual tradition of giving thanks for this prosperous new land called America.
The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hard-working or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.
In his History of Plymouth Plantation, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years because they refused to work in the field. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”
In the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622, “all had their hungry bellies filled,” but only briefly. The prevailing condition during those years was not the abundance the official story claims, it was famine and death. The first “Thanksgiving” was not so much a celebration as it was the last meal of condemned men.
But in subsequent years something changes. The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, “instead of famine now God gave them plenty,” Bradford wrote, “and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” Thereafter, he wrote, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.” In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.
What happened? After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, “they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop.” They began to question their form of economic organization.
This had required that “all profits & benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means” were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, “all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock.” A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take only what he needed.
This “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving. Bradford writes that “young men that were most able and fit for labor and service” complained about being forced to “spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children.” Also, “the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak.” So the young and strong refused to work and the total amount of food produced was never adequate.
To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a markets, and that was the end of the famines.
Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all with the same terrible results. At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first twelve months in America. Most of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609–10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from five-hundred to sixty. Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a relatively free market, and the results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth.
In 1614 Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was “plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure.” He said that when the socialist system had prevailed, “we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”
Before these free markets were established, the colonists had nothing for which to be thankful. They were in the same situation as Ethiopians are today, and for the same reasons. But after free markets were established, the resulting abundance was so dramatic that annual Thanksgiving celebrations became common throughout the colonies, and in 1863 Thanksgiving became a national holiday.
Thus, the real meaning of Thanksgiving, deleted from the official story, is: Socialism does not work; the one and only source of abundance is free markets, and we thank God we live in a country where we can have them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Richard Maybury is known as the “2,500-year-old man.” That’s because his deep understanding of history, law, and economics—and their impact on today’s financial markets—spans millennia.
You can learn more about how world events impact your investments in Richard’s newsletter, The U.S. and World Early Warning Report, right here.
John Stossel: Thanksgiving Tragedy
Tomorrow, as you celebrate the meal the Pilgrims ate with Indians, pause a moment to thank private property.
I know that seems weird, but before that first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims nearly starved to death because they didn’t respect private property.
When they first arrived in Massachusetts, they acted like Bernie Sanders wants us to act. They farmed “collectively.” Pilgrims said, “We’ll grow food together and divide the harvest equally.”
Bad idea. Economists call this the “tragedy of the commons.” When everyone works “together,” some people don’t work very hard.
Likewise, when the crops were ready to eat, some grabbed extra food — sometimes picking corn at night, before it was fully ready. Teenagers were especially lazy and likely to steal the commune’s crops.
Pilgrims almost starved. Governor Bradford wrote in his diary, “So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could … that they might not still thus languish in misery.”
His answer: He divided the commune into parcels and assigned each Pilgrim his own property, or as Bradford put it, “set corn every man for his own particular. … Assigned every family a parcel of land.”
That simple change brought the Pilgrims so much plenty that they could share food with Indians. Bradford wrote that it “made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.”
We see this principle at work all around us today. America is prosperous because private property is mostly respected, and people work hard to protect what they own. China rose out of poverty only when the Communist rulers finally allowed people to own property and keep profits from it.
But wait, you say, didn’t the Native Americans live communally? Isn’t that proof that socialism and collective property work?
No. It’s a myth that the Native Americans had no property rules. They had property — and European settlers should have treated those rules with respect.
Native American property rules varied. There wasn’t much point trying to establish private property in rocky hinterlands where no one traveled. But, writes Terry Anderson of the Property and Environment Research Center, “Private garden plots were common in the East, as were large community fields with plots assigned to individual families. Harvesting on each plot was done by the owning family, with the bounty stored in the family’s own storehouse.”
Today, however, many American Indians live in poverty. It’s not because Native Americans are lazy or irresponsible. When Indians are allowed to own their own land, they prosper. The laws of economics are the same for all people.
I asked Manny Jules, chief of the Kamloops Indian Band for 16 years, why so many Indians are poor.
“Nobody chooses poverty,” he said on my show. “We’ve been legislated out of the economy by the federal governments, both in the United States and Canada.”
That sounds odd to people who know how much money governments spend to “care for” Indians.
“Well, by taking care of us, that means providing social welfare programs,” says Jules. “The only way to break the cycle of poverty (is) real property rights.”
The U.S. government, after killing thousands of Native Americans and restricting others to reservations, gave tribal governments control over Indians’ lives, in collaboration with the government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Since then, no group in America has been more “helped” and “managed” by the federal government than Indians. Because of that, no group has done worse.
Homes on reservations are likely to lack electricity and indoor plumbing. There is serious alcoholism and drug abuse. A staggering number of American Indians are unemployed. Many commit suicide.
Jules says not being able to own your own land is part of the problem. “You can’t borrow. You can’t get a mortgage. You can’t be bonded. There’s nothing that you can have that’ll allow you to be able to go to the bank on your own without the (government) minister co-signing that loan.”
Tribal governments function about as badly as governments run by white people. They waste money, mismanage valuable resources and give sweetheart deals to crony businesses.
If we want to give people — all people — reason to celebrate this Thanksgiving, give them the proven formula for prosperity. Get government out of the way, and respect every individual’s property rights.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Stossel is the author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed” and host of “Stossel” (Fridays at 9 PM/ET), a weekly program highlighting current consumer issues with a libertarian viewpoint. Stossel also appears regularly on Fox News Channel (FNC) providing signature analysis. Click here for more information on John Stossel.