Thank Private Property

Happy Thanksgiving!

But beware the “tragedy of the commons.” It almost killed off the pilgrims.

Now, via Washington, D.C., it’s probably coming for us.

Tragedy of the commons is a concept from an essay by ecologist Garrett Hardin. He wrote how cattle ranchers sharing a common parcel of land soon destroy that land. That’s because each rancher has an incentive to put cattle on the common. Soon, the extra animals eat all the grass. Shared grazing space is destroyed because no rancher has an incentive to conserve.

If the ranchers put up a few fences and divide the land, each rancher has an incentive to limit grazing. That saves the grass and the cattle.

Sharing things and “public” property sound nice, but only private ownership reliably inspires people to conserve and protect.

No one washes a rental car.

I bring this up now because the Democrats’ new multitrillion-dollar spending bills are all about expanding the commons: more free highways, free health care, free day care, free money for parents, housing subsidies, tax credits for electric vehicles, etc.

All these handouts discourage responsibility by making it easier to take from the “commons.”

Save for retirement? Why? The government will cover it. Save up for college? Why? Government will give you grants and loans and then forgive those loans.

I bring this up now because this same sort of thinking nearly killed the pilgrims.

When they came to America, the pilgrims decided to share everything. The governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, wrote that the pilgrims thought “taking away of property and (making it communal) … would make them happy and flourishing.”

Food and supplies were distributed based on need. Pilgrims would not selfishly produce food for themselves.

In other words, they, like Sen. Bernie Sanders and many American young people today, fell in love with the idea of socialism.

The result was ugly. When the first harvest came, there wasn’t nearly enough food. Many pilgrims died that winter. If the Wampanoag American Indians hadn’t helped them, all might have starved.

It was the tragedy of the commons. No individual pilgrim owned crops they grew, so no one had an incentive to work harder to produce extra to sell to others. Since even slackers got food from the communal supply, they had no incentive to work hard.

Many didn’t.

Strong men thought it was an “injustice” that they “had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could.” Women had to cook and clean for other women’s husbands, and they “deemed it a kind of slavery.”

The shared farming, Bradford concluded, “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit.”

When the Pilgrims ran out of food, they “began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop … that they might not still thus languish in misery.”

Their solution was private property. They split up the collective farm and gave every family a plot of land.

That was a big success. “It made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been,” wrote Bradford. “The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.” Before, they “would allege weakness and inability.”

Thanks to individual plots of land, food shortages turned into a surplus that became the feast we now call Thanksgiving.

“All men have this corruption,” Bradford observed. In a common, everyone wants to take as much as they can.

Private property created prosperity.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for private property.

It’s why I can eat turkey.

24 thoughts on “Thank Private Property

  1. Very insightful and informative. I didn’t know of this dynamic in history, nor had any notion of how it brought about this tradition.

  2. From what is currently going on, it feels like we are slipping back into British Rule. Why all the drama of “the Crown” be on Facebook (as an example) in America? To get us comfortable with the idea?

  3. We had this same situation in our family… Daughter gets pregnant at 16… by the time she is 21 there is 4 children which the grandparents took care of most of the time… She got free housing, food stamps, medical… Now at the age of 49 she still didn’t live on her own… always with parents until a few months ago when enough was enough… She was thrown out of the nest… and guess what? She is thriving on her own.

  4. This was a great history lesson. I will share this with as many people as possible. Everyone needs to read this

  5. How soon we forget. As the fable goes, the Grasshopper enjoys the summer but starves in the winter. The ant works all summer and feasts all winter. Go to the Ant, thou “Sluggard” consider her ways and be wise!

  6. This can also be translated to our current healthcare system. Because most people never know the price they are paying there is no incentive for market driven pricing. Even with high deductible plans so many people won’t even try to understand the economics. Insurance companies and large hospital systems control the “common” area and those who advocate for transparency and responsibility are targeted to appear as a fringe group. However,
    Free Market Medicine is the only way to recover control of our healthcare system. The movement has begun but the masses still bury their head in the sand.

  7. It’s time we got mad about this.
    It’s time we no longer sit quietly by, trusting that the good intentions of those who fail to appreciate what The United States of America is.
    It’s time we attack the ideas of intellectually lazy in a way isn’t personal to the speaker but makes them uncomfortable enough to think.
    It’s time to make a principled stand against the virtue signaling ignorant.
    This story can be one of those attacks.
    Use it.

  8. God bless John for sending this message of “Societal self destruction” and coming to the realization of a better way to live and prosper by one’s own initiative that collectively benefits the whole society. “Long live freedom and may Americans come to this realization soon so we as a people will have the opportunity to truly live the ” American Dream”.

  9. Mr. Stossel
    I find it curious that these colonists did not think that surviving together, after coming over in a harrowing journey, would be a sufficient reason for each person to pull hard and contribute to the best of their ability temporarily, until the colony got established.
    Every time I see this being referenced, I never see a reference to the kibbutz model in Israel.
    The kibbutz is what got the country established BEFORE it became the State of Israel and afterwards. These European Jews, bought into the idea of a shared burden, of creating a Jewish state, a Jewish refuge, a Jewish safe haven, built on the labor of fellow Jews. One difference, though. The kibbutzes, while run as communes with no private property, still had to exist in a capitalist society. They did NOT accept or tolerate slackers. Eventually, some failed and had to be disbanded.

  10. This is a great analogy. It is amazing what the common man will do when they have to. Time and time again we have seen What happens When people are required To fend for themselves. In general People have A lot more Initiative and wisdom than the government gives them credit for.

  11. The first rule of economics: People respond to incentives. Always look for the incentives that are being established in any government program.

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