Many Americans have not been taught the history of socialism in America. In November 2011 Liberty Under Fire posted a short article about the Pilgrims’ experiment with socialism.
The article reports:
William Bradford, the colony’s governor its first 30 years, wrote of the agreement between the Pilgrim passengers and the financial “Adventurers” in his book Of Plymouth Plantation. He noted that the seven-year contract signed July 1, 1620, before leaving Plymouth England, stipulated that the Pilgrims were to pool, for common benefit, “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means of any person or persons…” It further noted “that at the end of the seven years, the capital and profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods and chattels, be equally divided betwixt the Adventurers and Planters…” During this time the colonists were to “have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock and goods of the said colony.” It doesn’t get more socialistic than this because the government divvied out the goods and loafers received the same as those who worked.
The first two years the result was shortages and starvation. About half the colonists died. No one did more than the minimal because the incentive to excel was destroyed. The industrious were neutralized. Bradford wrote of the scarcity of food “no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any.” The socialist experiment Bradford added, “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to the benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense….” In other words, socialism made strong men lazy. In another book written by the same author, History of Plymouth Plantation, Bradford spoke of another problem because of the government created famine—thievery. Even in this Christian community, “much was stolen both by night and day….”
After two years of such, with the survival of the colony at stake, they contemplated upon “how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery.” They opted to abandon the incentive killing socialist contract in favor of the free market. And so they “assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end…”
The effects were almost immediate. A delighted Governor 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… could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.” In other words, the free market is a much greater stimulus than governmental force. The Pilgrims now wished to work because they got to keep the benefits of their labor. “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…. Any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”
The article notes that secure property rights are the key to prosperity. This principle was embraced recently by Hernando de Soto.who has focused on a revolutionary concept that is having repercussions throughout the world’s poor countries: the lack of formal property rights is the source of poverty in poor countries. (see article here)
We have watched the decline of Venezuela as they have moved into socialism (article here). We need to learn the lessons of history–not repeat the mistakes.