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Posts Tagged ‘pilgrims’

Give thanks for property rights

Posted by Richard on November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re enjoying this day with family and/or friends and thinking about all you have to be thankful for. It may not occur to you, but you should spend a moment being thankful for property rights. That’s the point of a decade-old post of mine about the real story of Thanksgiving, which I urge you to read. Back then, this blog was hosted at, and a search for that phrase returned my post as the first, or at least top 5, result for several years. Those canny Scots who ran Blog City had some mad SEO skills, I guess.

John Stossel, whom I consider a national treasure, addressed the same topic at Reason yesterday (emphasis added):

The Pilgrims were religious, united by faith and a powerful desire to start anew, away from religious persecution in the Old World. Each member of the community professed a desire to labor together, on behalf of the whole settlement.

Actually, he’s wrong about that. As my post (link above) noted, they were forced into this communal arrangement by their sponsors.

In other words: socialism.

But when they tried that, the Pilgrims almost starved.

Their collective farming—the whole community deciding when and how much to plant, when to harvest, who would do the work—was an inefficient disaster.

That went on for two and a half years before Bradford and the others decided something needed to change. For more details, see my post above or Bradford’s book.

His answer: divide the commune into parcels and assign each Pilgrim family its own property. …

Private property protects us from what economists call the tragedy of the commons. The “commons” is a shared resource. That means it’s really owned by no one, and no one person has much incentive to protect it or develop it.

The Pilgrims’ simple change to private ownership, wrote Bradford, “made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” Soon they had so much plenty that they could share food with the natives.

The Indians weren’t socialists, either. They had property rules of their own. That helped them grow enough so they had plenty, even during cold winters.

When property rights are tossed aside, even for the sake of religious fellowship or in the name of the working class, people just don’t work as hard.

Why farm all day—or invent new ways of farming—when everyone else will get an equal share?

But once Bradford created private lots, the Pilgrims worked hard. They could have sat around arguing about who should do how much work, whether English tribes or Indian ones were culturally superior, and what God would decree if She/He set rules for farming.

None of that would have yielded the bounty that a simple division of land into private lots did.

When people respect property rights, they also interact more peacefully.

At this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, if people start arguing about how society should be run, try being a peacemaker by suggesting that everyone should get to decide what to do with their own property.

If your uncle wants government to tax imports or thinks police should seize people’s marijuana, tell him that he doesn’t have to smoke weed or buy Chinese products, but he should keep his hands off other people’s property.

If your niece says everyone loves socialism now, remind her she has enough trouble managing her own life without telling the rest of the world what to do. When families don’t agree, they certainly shouldn’t try to run millions of other people’s lives.

In America today, religious groups practice different rites but usually don’t demand that government ban others’ practices. Private schools set curricula without nasty public fights. Businesses stock shelves without politicians fighting about which products they should carry.

All those systems work pretty well. That’s because they are private.

In most of our lives, private ownership makes political arguments unnecessary.

I’m thankful for that.

Amen. Did anyone bring blueberry pie? What time does the game start? Pass the wine!

And again, a most Happy Thanksgiving to all who read this!

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Things to be thankful for: Pilgrims, property rights, and technology

Posted by Richard on November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoy your turkey (or ham) dinner and the company of family or friends. Yes, even that crazy aunt or uncle. But please shut down any family member who starts spouting Tom Steyer’s talking points about the “Need to Impeach.”

On this Thanksgiving, Veronique de Rugy suggests being grateful for all the technological advancements that have improved our lives and the new ones that are on the horizon, such as air taxis (if the feds don’t stifle them with onerous regulations).

John Stossel, meanwhile, looks backward and is thankful for William Bradford and the Pilgrims’ “early correction” from collective ownership to private property rights.

For much more about the Pilgrims, see this old post of mine about the real story of Thanksgiving.

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Best wishes for Thanksgiving

Posted by Richard on November 25, 2010

My 2006 post, "The real Thanksgiving story," still gets a fair number of hits around this time of the year from people searching for exactly those words. My follow-ups from 2007, 2008, and 2009 also get a little bump. I thought about reprising the 2006 post this year, or offering yet another follow-up like last year's. But it's been a busy time for me, and as I write this, it's already late on Thanksgiving eve. So, dear reader, please visit (or revisit) those posts and think about their message this Thanksgiving:

For something new this Thanksgiving, I refer you to a couple of fine columns. First, John Stossel recounted the lesson of the first Thanksgiving and noted that our government still hasn't learned that lesson, and Indians today suffer because of that (emphasis added):

What private property does — as the Pilgrims discovered — is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there's a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.
Here's the biggest irony of all: The U.S. government has yet to apply the lesson to its first conquest, Native Americans. The U.S. government has held most Indian land in trust since the 19th century. This discourages initiative and risk-taking because, among other reasons, it can't be used as collateral for loans. On Indian reservations, "private land is 40 to 90 percent more productive than land owned through the Bureau of Indian Affairs," says economist Terry Anderson, executive director of PERC. "If you drive through western reservations, you will see on one side cultivated fields, irrigation, and on the other side, overgrazed pasture, run-down pastures and homes. One is a simple commons; the other side is private property. You have Indians on both sides. The important thing is someone owns one side."

Then, please read Fouad Ajami's column about how a Middle Eastern immigrant came to value Thanksgiving — but not the gravy (emphasis added): 

The fondness of Thanksgiving, the meaning and the appreciation of the ritual, came slowly. It came with my assimilation into American life, with my marriage, and with the family I would come to acquire. I was not fond of turkey, though I made peace with the stuffing. The gravy, for a man of the Mediterranean, was irredeemable. Pumpkin pie and the cranberry sauce were more to my liking.

But the source of the holiday's appeal was that it made no religious demands, for I had been stripped of all religious devotion. I could not make any connection to Christmas—the commercialism, the music, the carols, were all alien to me. Nor could I partake of the passion for two big gateways into American life: football and baseball. I had grown up on soccer, and the frenzy for these two American attachments left me on the outside, bewildered. It was ultimately two celebrations of great simplicity that appealed to me: Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. They are both, to the core, celebrations of Americanism, great assimilative affirmations.

Professor Ajami, feel free to send your unwanted gravy my way — email me for the address. 🙂 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. With a fine giblet gravy!

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Thanking the producers again

Posted by Richard on November 26, 2009

The first ThanksgivingThis time each year, I get lots of hits on my 2006 post The real Thanksgiving story, and a smaller bump on my 2007 post This Thanksgiving, celebrate the producers. Please check them out (and please read T.F. Stern’s comment and my reply on the latter). This year, courtesy of Doug Fabian, I bring you another thanks to the producers, this one from Jim Woods:

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and I suspect that most of you reading this have plans to spend time with friends and family feasting on a sumptuous meal. I know I will be gourmandizing on various gastronomic delights, not the least of which will be of the fine fermented variety.

Now, amidst tomorrow’s day of celebration, I undoubtedly will be bombarded by numerous television news spots aimed at making me feel guilty for my bounty. Although not directed specifically at me, the purpose of these stories will be to remind me that I should feel fortunate to have a roof over my head, warm clothes on my back and a hot meal on my plate. Because, these stories will imply, it could be me — or any one of us — who suffers the indignity of poverty, hunger or homelessness.

The plight of those less fortunate, shown to us via remote telecast from the nearest homeless shelter or inner city soup kitchen, is supposed to be a stark reminder that those whose lives aren’t immersed in peril should be thankful for all that we have.

Well, to this I ask, thankful to whom? Who are the people responsible for providing us with the tremendous bounty most Americans enjoy?

This year, I want you to give thanks to those who truly deserve it.

This year, I want you to thank the men (and women) of genius who first discovered how to harness fire and how to forge tools for hunting. I want you to thank the men of genius who discovered how to cultivate crops and how to ferment grapes and create wine.

I want you to thank the men of genius who are responsible for creating the planes, trains and automobiles that delivered the bounty to your table. And I want you to thank the men of genius who, throughout history, plied their various trades — often in the face of unimaginable opposition — to help lift us all out of a squalid state of nature and into the magnificence that is 21st-century America.

And finally, I think we should all give extra thanks to the real unsung heroes, the capitalists, who put their money and their livelihoods at risk to fund the various enterprises throughout the ages that made modern life possible.

To all of the great capitalist heroes, I thank you from the very core of my own productive mind. I can offer you no greater tribute this Thanksgiving than to enjoy, without the slightest hint of guilt, the life-sustaining bounty you all have made possible.

This Thursday, we need to thank the men and women of genius, both past and present, who truly deserve the gratitude, yet who so often get nothing but condemnation in exchange for their tremendous achievements.

I toast you all in the name of the best within us. 



Cheers to you, Jim, and to Doug for sharing your fine comments with us. And thank you, dear visitor, for dropping by. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, and as I said in 2007, remember to thank the producers who made it possible — including yourself!

If you’re religious, by all means thank God for giving humans the faculties that make our achievements possible. But don’t forget that we have free will. It’s the choices we’ve made — and that countless others alongside us and before us have made — that are responsible for the bounties for which we’re thankful today. We have to choose to exercise those faculties productively and to establish and maintain societies in which such exercise is not just possible, but encouraged and rewarded. The incredible riches all around us aren’t the result of wishes or prayers, they weren’t just handed to us — they exist because of the creativity and hard work that countless people chose to exercise. And they will disappear if people stop making those choices.

So say thanks also to William Bradford and the Pilgrims, and their Massasoit Indian friends. And to the patriots of the American Revolution. And to the Founding Fathers. And to all the scientists and entrepreneurs and capitalists and laborers who’ve created this incredible modern world in which we live. And to all the people proudly and productively working to create more every day. I bet you’re one of them, so in the words of Debi Ghate, “selfishly and proudly say: ‘I earned this.'”

On a more somber note, don’t forget that today is also the first anniversary of the Jihadist attack on Mumbai. In recent years, our friends in India have joined us in embracing freedom, opportunity, progress, and modernity. For their achievements, they were brutally punished by 7th-century barbarians. There are those who will not rest until they destroy everything we value and the wealth, freedom, and opportunity for which we give thanks. Don’t forget that.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by Richard on November 27, 2008

For decades, kindergarten kids at two California schools have taken turns dressing up as Pilgrims and Indians, visiting the others' school, and sharing a Thanksgiving feast. This year, the cops were called:

Controversy erupted after district officials last week decided to eliminate the Native American and pilgrim costumes from this year's event after some parents complained that they were demeaning and stereotypical. Other parents were infuriated by the district's modifications of the event, saying that administrators had bowed to political correctness.

Notice that the politically correct LA Times capitalized "Native American," but relegated the Pilgrims to lower case. 

On Tuesday morning, some parents dressed their children in the hand-made headdresses, bonnets and fringed vests, and school officials did not force the students to remove them. …

Nearly two dozen protesters stationed themselves in front of the school, evenly split between costume supporters and opponents. The supporters set up a table with refreshments in front of the school sign, and several wore construction-paper headdresses. Foes stood about 40 feet away, carrying signs that said, "Don't Celebrate Genocide."

The discussion between the two groups grew so heated that school officials called police, and officials separated the protesters onto separate sidewalks, said Claremont Police Lt. Dennis Smith.

These little kids were re-enacting the first Thanksgiving — when people from two different cultures came together in a spirit of neighborliness, friendship, mutual respect, and good will to share and celebrate a bountiful harvest. And these whack-job protesters accuse them of celebrating genocide. Unbelievable. 

I hope your Thanksgiving reflects the joyful spirit of the first Thanksgiving, and is free of the hostility, anger, and bitterness of these mean-spirited moonbat protesters. 

And please take a few minutes to read (or reread) my 2006 post, The real Thanksgiving story, which still gets lots of hits around this time of year. It describes how the Pilgrims learned an important lesson in economics in 1623, which made that bountiful harvest possible. It's a lesson we'd better remember.

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This Thanksgiving, celebrate the producers

Posted by Richard on November 22, 2007

"The first Thanksgiving" by Jean Louis Gerome FerrisUPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2008): Thanks for stopping by. After you read this post and The real Thanksgiving story, don’t miss this year’s funny/sad Thanksgiving story! It’s about kindergarten kids celebrating Thanksgiving. And it features cops and accusations of genocide.

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2009): This year, with lots of help from Jim Woods, I again thanked the producers. And remembered the anniversary of the Jihadist attacks on Mumbai. Please check it out.   

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful day with family, friends, food, and football. But before you leave your PC for the festivities, please read Debi Ghate’s wonderful explanation of what you should be thankful for and who you should thank (bold added, italics in original):

What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?

Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as “a typically American holiday … its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.”

She was right. This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our forefathers began to develop the land and build spectacular cities, shaping what is now the wealthiest nation in the world.

It’s the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity. We uniquely recognize that production leads to wealth and that we must dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

It’s no accident that Americans have a holiday called Thanksgiving — a yearly tradition when we pause to appreciate the “bountiful harvest” we’ve reaped.

What is today’s version of the “bountiful harvest”? It’s the affluence and success we’ve gained. It’s the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy.

It’s the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on. It’s the good life.

How did we get this “bountiful harvest”? Ask any hard-working American; it sure wasn’t by the “grace of God.” It didn’t grow on a fabled “money tree.”

We created it by working hard, by desiring the best money can buy and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don’t create ourselves, we trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our stockbrokers, hairdressers and doctors.

We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.

So, on Thanksgiving, why don’t we thank ourselves and those producers who make the good life possible?

From a young age, we are bombarded with messages designed to undermine our confident pursuit of values: “Be humble,” “You can’t know what’s good for yourself,” “It’s better to give than receive,” and above all “Don’t be selfish!”

We are scolded not to take more than “our share” — whether it is of corporate profits, electricity or pie. We are taught that altruism — selfless concern for others — is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who have no claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.

But, morally, one should reach for the sky. One should recognize that the corporate profits, electricity or pie was earned through one’s production — and savor its consumption.

Every decision one makes, from what career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance one’s rational goals, interests and, ultimately, one’s life. One should take pride in being rationally selfish — one’s life and happiness depend on it.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recognize what we are truly grateful for, to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships and material things — all the values we most selfishly cherish.

We should thank researchers who have made certain cancers beatable, gourmet chefs at our favorite restaurants, authors whose books made us rethink our lives, financiers who developed revolutionary investment strategies and entrepreneurs who created fabulous online stores.

We should thank ourselves and those individuals who make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable — those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.

As you sit down to your sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner served on your best china, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying. Debi Ghate

As you look around at who you’ve chosen to spend your day with — those you’ve chosen to love — thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible.

It’s a time to selfishly and proudly say: “I earned this.”

Debi Ghate is Vice-President of Academic Programs at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California.


As for the Thanksgiving lesson to be learned from the history of the Plymouth colony, it’s an economics lesson. I provided a pretty good account (if I do say so myself) last year, with plenty of quotes from Governor William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. John Stossel wrote a shorter summary of the same lesson this year, which I encourage you to read, too. Even though mine’s better. 🙂

Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner. And remember to thank the producers who made it possible — including yourself!

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The real Thanksgiving story

Posted by Richard on November 23, 2006

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2007): Welcome to all of you who found this post via Google,, etc. I hope you appreciate the true story of Thanksgiving and the important lesson it teaches us. I’ve provided plenty of links if you want to follow up further. Please check out my new Thanksgiving post, which features Debi Ghates’ wonderful explanation of what you should be thankful for and who you should thank.

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2008): Welcome again, “real Thanksgiving story” searchers. After you read this post and last year’s, check out this year’s funny/sad Thanksgiving story! It’s about kindergarten kids celebrating Thanksgiving. And it features cops and accusations of genocide.

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2009): This year, with lots of help from Jim Woods, I again thanked the producers. And remembered the anniversary of the Jihadist attacks on Mumbai. Please check it out.   

First Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! May you enjoy lots of food, lots of football, and lots of fun with family and friends on this day. But before you push away from the PC and belly up to the banquet table, please take a few minutes to read this story about the Pilgrims — it’s probably not the one you’ve heard.

Two competing Thanksgiving stories are commonly told these days. The first is the traditional one I was taught as a child: The Pilgrims suffered through a terrible first winter at Plymouth, but with hard work and the help of the friendly Massasoit Indians, they had a bountiful harvest in 1621 and held a thanksgiving celebration with their Indian friends. Happy celebrations of sharing and giving thanks for God’s bounty came to be repeated every year and throughout the colonies.

The second version, apparently widely taught for the past 30 years or so, differs a bit. In it, the wisdom, kindness, and generosity of the Indigenous Peoples is the only reason that any of the stupid white Europeans survived and had food with which to celebrate. The Pilgrims soon repaid their benefactors by slaughtering them. Barbarous treatment of gentle natives and gleeful celebrations of their genocide came to be repeated frequently and throughout the colonies.

Both versions are false, of course. The real story is available straight from the horse’s mouth. Colony Governor William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation provides a complete history. You can download the entire book (8 MB PDF) from Dr. Ted Hildebrand’s Gordon College website. The Mises Institute’s Gary Galles used quotes from Bradford to put together a good summary. The first two Thanksgivings were rather grim, and for two and a half years, the colony endured not only hardship and hunger, but also conflict and strife:

The Pilgrims’ unhappiness was caused by their system of common property (not adopted, as often asserted, from their religious convictions, but required against their will by the colony’s sponsors). The fruits of each person’s efforts went to the community, and each received a share from the common wealth. This caused severe strains among the members, as Colony Governor William Bradford recorded:

” . . . the young men . . . did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong . . . had not more in division . . . than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes, etc . . . thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And the men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”

Bradford summarized the effects of their common property system:

“For this community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontentment and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort . . . all being to have alike, and all to do alike . . . if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them.”

How did the Pilgrims move from this dysfunctional system to the situation we try to emulate in our family gatherings? In the spring of 1623, they decided to let people produce for their own benefit:

“All their victuals were spent . . . no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think 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. At length . . . the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. . . . And so assigned to every family a parcel of land . . . “

The results were dramatic:

“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 or any other 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.”

That was quite a change from their previous situation, where severe whippings had been resorted to as an inducement to more labor effort, with little success other than in creating discontent.

The Mises Institute also has a Richard Maybury version of the story that’s worth reading. Maybury quoted Bradford acknowledging another terrible consequence of the communal system — it encouraged dishonesty as well as indolence:

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 fields. 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.”

The Hoover Institution has a much longer account (with more of an economic historian’s perspective) by Tom Bethell, with details of how “the communal experiment” came to be and how it worked (or didn’t). And the Independent Institute’s Ben Powell wrote a good short article that nicely summarized the lesson of Plymouth Plantation:

We are direct beneficiaries of the economics lesson the pilgrims learned in 1623. Today we have a much better developed and well-defined set of property rights. Our economic system offers incentives for us—in the form of prices and profits—to coordinate our individual behavior for the mutual benefit of all; even those we may not personally know.

It is customary in many families to “give thanks to the hands that prepared this feast” during the Thanksgiving dinner blessing. Perhaps we should also be thankful for the millions of other hands that helped get the dinner to the table: the grocer who sold us the turkey, the truck driver who delivered it to the store, and the farmer who raised it all contributed to our Thanksgiving dinner because our economic system rewards them. That’s 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.

And for that, I’m extremely thankful. Now, when’s that turkey going to be ready?

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