Yes, we’ve got the pandemic, lockdowns, a worsening deficit, etc.
But we still live in a relatively free country at the most prosperous time in human history.
The pandemic showed that when people are faced with crises, we adjust. Restaurants switched to takeout and outdoor dining. Grocery stores began curbside pickup. Companies mass-produced masks, hand sanitizer, ventilators and, now, vaccines. I hide from COVID-19 by staying home; yet, thanks to new services such as Zoom, I can research this column and make my weekly videos from my couch.
That’s brought benefits. I no longer have to deal with traffic congestion.
Traffic jams are a good example of what ecologist Garrett Hardin called the “Tragedy of the Commons.”
Because roads are free, more people drive, and roads are often congested. If roads were subject to “peak-load pricing, charging higher prices during times of peak demand and lower prices at other times,” Hardin wrote, then we’d have fewer traffic jams.
I bring this up now, before Thanksgiving, because a similar Tragedy of the Commons nearly killed the Pilgrims. When they landed at Plymouth Rock, they started a society based on sharing.
Sharing sounds great.
But sharing, basically, is collective or communal farming, which is socialism. Food and supplies were distributed based on need. Pilgrims were forbidden to selfishly produce food for themselves.
That collective farming was a disaster. When the first harvest came, there wasn’t much food to go around. The Pilgrims nearly starved.
Since no individual owned crops from the farm, no one had an incentive to work harder to produce extra that they might sell to others. Since even slackers got food from the communal supply, there was no penalty for not working.
William Bradford wrote in his “History of Plymouth Plantation” that the colony was ridden with “corruption” and “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”
People eager to provide for their families were less eager to provide for others. Bradford wrote, “young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.”
Ultimately, said Bradford, shared farming “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”
The Pilgrims “begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope (so) they might not still thus languish in miserie.”
Languishing in misery is what people in Venezuela do now.
The Pilgrims’ solution: private property.
In 1623, the collective farm was split up, and every family was given a plot of land. People could grow their own food and keep it or trade it. “It made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” wrote Bradford. “Women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability.”
The Pilgrims flourished because they turned to private property.
So, this Thanksgiving, be grateful for private property, a foundation of capitalism.
Your grocery may not have the small turkey you wanted this year, but they have much more of what you want than people in the Soviet Union ever got.
When you’re shopping for dinner or stocking up for Lockdown 2.0, be glad that you have so many options available.
If government controlled the production of turkeys and toilet paper, this would be a very, very unhappy Thanksgiving.
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
5 thoughts on “Private Property’s Harvest”
Great history, great content! Thanks for sharing and have a nice Thanksgiving!
Well spoken, thanks for you being you!
This is so true! I wonder how peak-load pricing could work practically. It would be an interesting solution.
Where I live, apartment rent control has made finding apartments a nightmare. It feels very similar to the communal farming that the pilgrims went through. Apartment prices are so cheap that everyone wants one but there aren’t that many. This leads to year long queues waiting for a single mediocre apartment when many people would be happy to pay a little more if it meant getting it faster.
There is a private highway in Toronto. It’s called the 407 ETR (Electronic Toll Route). There are cameras that take a picture of your license plate at the on ramps and off ramps. They figure out the mileage and time you use the road and you receive a bill at the end of the month.
Even though other roads are free to drive on, the ETR is very suscessful. And you never see a pot hole in the pavement or any filth on the side of the road.
Even though it’s private, they have to figure out a decent enough price so that people will willingly drive on it.
You can also apply for a transponder you put on your dash. So it scans your transponder instead of taking a picture of your plate. Saves you the extra cost of paying for two pictures on top of your mileage.
Unfortunately Comrades Bernie and AOC would have us become like Venezuela and the Soviet Union and all that we have to be thankful for now will go away when they win over the losers and youth of our society by offering so much free stuff. Well it’s not really free. The people who have successfully managed their lives and built industries will pay for it.
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