Reprinted from the Independent Institute
Eid and football. This is what many of us think of Thanksgiving. Most people identify the origin of the holiday with the first bountiful harvest of the Pilgrims. But few understand how the pilgrims solved their chronic food shortage.
Many people believe that after suffering through a harsh winter, the Pilgrims’ food shortages were resolved the following spring when Native Americans taught them to plant corn and that resulted in a Thanksgiving celebration. In fact, the Pilgrims continued to face chronic food shortages for three years until the harvest of 1623. Neither bad weather nor lack of agricultural knowledge caused the Pilgrims to be short. I did bad economic stimulus.
In 1620, Plymouth Plantation was incorporated with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were kept jointly and then distributed on an “equality” and “need” basis as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to the production of food, and the population was forbidden to produce their own food. Governor William Bradford, in his history of 1647, From Plymouth PlantationHe wrote that this system “was found to generate much confusion and discontent and delay many functions which would have been for their benefit and convenience”. The problem was that “young men, more able and fit for work, have conceded the necessity of spending their time and energy to work with the wives and children of other men without any compensation.” Due to poor incentives, little food was produced.
Faced with a possible famine in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Each family is assigned a private plot of land. Then they can keep it All They grew up for themselves, but now they are solely responsible for feeding themselves. Although not a complete system of private property, the move away from communal property had tragic results.
Bradford wrote that this alteration “did very well, for it made all hands so industrious, that more corn was sown than could have been.” Giving people economic incentives changed their behaviour. Once the new system of property rights was implemented, “the women now went voluntarily into the field, taking their little children with them to lay the corn; which before was a pretense of weakness and inability.”
Once the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation abandoned their collective economic system and adopted a system with greater individual property rights, they did not face hunger and food shortages again for the first three years. Only after allowing greater property rights could they eat without worrying that starvation was about to set in.
We are the direct beneficiaries of the lesson of economics learned by the Pilgrims in 1623. Today we have a much better and well-defined set of property rights. Our economic system offers us incentives—in the form of prices and profits—to coordinate our individual behavior for the mutual benefit of all; Even those we may not know personally.
It is customary in many families to “give thanks to the hands that prepared this feast” during the blessing of the Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps we should be thankful, too, for the millions of other hands that helped get dinner to the table: the grocer who sold us the turkey, the truck driver who drove it to the store, and the farmer who cared for it all contributed to Thanksgiving. Dinner because our economic system rewards them. This is the real lesson of Thanksgiving. The economic incentives provided by private competitive markets where people are left free to make their own choices make bountiful feasts possible.