Newspaper column: We should be thankful for capitalism

Thanksgiving is rich in traditions. The turkey. The dressing. The pumpkin pie. The family assembled in prayerful reverence in remembrance of the plight of the early settlers of this country — much of which is complete fiction.

The Plymouth colonists set out to live in an idealistic communal fashion. Everyone would share equally in the products of the colony. But after nearly starving to death in 1621 and 1622, Gov. William Bradford abandoned the social experiment and gave each family its own plot of land, and whatever was produced on it was the rightful property of the owner to consume or trade.

The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 followed by a feast of Thanksgiving.

Capitalism saved the colony. Now, there was a harvest celebration by the pilgrims and some Indian friends in 1621, but they never actually called it “Thanksgiving.”

The American Institute of Economic Research a decade ago posted online its own retelling of the Thanksgiving story, along with passages from Bradford’s recollections from “Of Plymouth Plantation,” translated into more modern spelling.

The AIER notes that the colony was attempting to live in the manner described in Plato’s Republic in which all would work and share goods in common, ridding themselves of selfishness and achieving higher social state. The problem was that hard work was not rewarded and laggardness and sloth went unpunished.

Bradford wrote: “For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then 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 labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for 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 man husbands brook it.”

Before the colony could die off from starvation, Bradford divvied up the land and introduced private property.

The governor wrote: “And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end. … This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then 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 a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

And the result was, again in Bradford’s words: “By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

This is the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving: Capitalism always triumphs over communist utopian fantasies. Humans will work for their own self interest and, instead of it being greedy and rapacious, all benefit and prosper.

Yet in August, a Fox News poll asked whether the U.S. should move away from capitalism and toward socialism. Fully 36 percent of registered voters said it would be a good thing, double the 18 percent who thought this in 2010. Only 51 percent said it would be bad, down from 69 percent earlier. 

When will they ever learn? As someone once said, those who do not remember history are doomed …

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

6 comments on “Newspaper column: We should be thankful for capitalism

  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for posting the reminder for us all.

  2. Deleted says:

    Someone is apparently not greatful for capitalism, or family, or much of anything apparently….except himself.

    A true conservative.

  3. Rincon says:

    The results of the polls show the obvious limitations of unbridled capitalism. While creating incentives to work hard and innovate are essential, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. When 80% of the people receive no share in our increasing productivity, why would we expect them to be cheerleaders for capitalism?

  4. Bill says:

    Polls show the “obvious limitations of unbridled capitalism”? A curious statement and perhaps reflective of our increasing herd mentality that we should be driven by popular sentiment. and reflective perhaps of what our millennial generation learned in school or perhaps more accurately, what they did not learn. I am curious as to the statement that “when 80% of the people receive no share in our increasing productivity…”. What poll made this conclusion? Bring out the tumbrils and to the guillotine with those wicked capitalists.

  5. CBO study found that from 1979 to 2015, he poorest fifth of Americans had a 80 percent post-tax income increase. The richest fifth also gained 80 percent. The middle three fifths had about a 50 percent growth. The top 1 percent did grow more than 200 percent, but all others grew, too. That is not “no share in our increasing productivity.”

  6. Rincon says:

    In checking Samuelson’s sources, I find that only 2015 incomes were shown, leaving no basis for comparison. Am I missing something? I do trust the CBO, so if Samuelson is reporting accurately, then the numbers of many sources deserve close examination, since this CBO report contradicts most other available figures.

    I also find that he supports a fossil fuel tax, so obviously, you shouldn’t believe his views on income disparity either unless he provides good evidence.

    The Pew Research Center says that average hourly wages haven’t budged since 1973. Since most employers have cut health care coverage in recent years, and unions are down the drain, it’s hard to buy Samuelson’s contention that health care coverage somehow makes up for that stagnation of income – or that hourly workers are getting vastly more fringe benefits. He also says the CBO counted Medicare benefits, but they did not subtract them from workers’ pay. That means that Medicare income is being counted twice – at the time it is earned, and when it is paid out.
    Given Samuelson’s track record, I suspect that his leaving out of the 1979 figures is intentional, as is his choice of 1979, a year when American incomes had dropped because of twin oil shocks and a recession. That is not the case today, so it’s apples and oranges to some extent. Media bias/Factcheck counts Pew Research as a “least biased source” of information with a very high rank for factual reporting. They don’t rank Samuelson, but I do. More evidence is needed.

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