The real meaning of Thanksgiving

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.

The American Institute of Economic Research has 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.

William Bradford

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.

Please remember that during the next Democratic presidential debate.

A version of this blog was first posted in 2011.

27 comments on “The real meaning of Thanksgiving

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Everything that guy just said was bullshit”
    -Vinny from “My Cousin Vinny”

    Happy Thanksgiving

  2. Steve says:

    Yeah Patrick,,,er anonymous,,, I bet you totally believe the rock is real!

    snicker,,,they have a duplicate in the basement of city hall.

  3. Steve says:

    Time for the now annual Thanksgiving post.

    Unfortunately, you might see memes like this today. It seems fashionable to paint the Pilgrims and Puritans as greedy invaders, set on seizing land and killing the natives, but this is not accurate. Modern historians specializing in this field give a much more favorable view of the early American settlers than many might think. The following are some interesting findings taken from Columbia University historian Alden Vaughan’s scholarly work, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675:

    -In the years before the Pilgrims arrived, the native population in New England was decimated by disease. By the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620, there were only 15-18,000 natives in ALL of New England, an extremely low population density.

    -Virtually all land acquired by the Puritans was done by voluntary means. The Indian tribes were often more than willing to trade land, which they had more than they could ever use, for new tools like metal plows and knives. In fact, it was the Indian tribes who typically approached the settlers to sell land. The Puritans were warmly welcomed into the Connecticut Valley, as the local natives wanted protection from their enemy, the Pequot Tribe.

    -The Puritans actually believed the Indians to be WHITE. They thought they were one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and their darker skin was a result of the sun and the harsh elements, not of a different race. While they thought themselves to be culturally superior, they didn’t view themselves as racially superior. Most saw their purpose as integrating and converting the Indians to adopt their customs. Not to conquer or slaughter them.

    -Puritans invited and encouraged the natives to attend their schools, both grade school and higher learning. The 1650 charter of Harvard declared its mission “the education of the English and Indian youth”. Unfortunately, most of the Indians who did integrate into their schools and society were decimated by disease, a reoccurring problem. The primary reason for the decline in Indian population was disease.

    -John Eliot, “the Apostle to the Indians”, undertook and completed the monumental task of translating the entire Bible into Algonquian. Since they had no written language, this involved not only learning Algonquian, but inventing a written language for them. Then, copying the entire Bible into that language, a mind boggling task.

    -Puritan courts generally decided in favor of the Indians during land disputes. The historical records show a much fairer system than most would think today in settling disputes and crimes.

    -Like every society, the Puritans were complex, imperfect and indeed committed atrocities. In particular, the Mystic Fort massacre during the Pequot War, where hundreds of Pequot tribal members, including women and children, were surrounded and killed. However, the lead up to this conflict was nuanced, with both sides bearing responsibility. Additionally, the Mohegan tribe joined the Puritans in fighting the Pequots during the war.

    The real history of the early settlers is much more complex (and interesting) than the standard Thanksgiving fairy tale or the more contemporary notion that they were greedy, bloodthirsty, genocidal invaders. To learn more, Dr. Vaughan’s book is a good start.

  4. Rincon says:

    Same baloney, different year. This morality tale shows that pure socialism doesn’t work. Big surprise! Much of history shows that pure capitalism doesn’t work well either, but of course, this is not intended to be a balanced article, but an editorial pushing Conservative beliefs. Hopefully, we can at least agree that some mix of the two, or at least some oversight to tame the excesses of unbridled capitalism works best. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. No price fixing. Other than that?

  6. Rincon says:

    Eliminating price fixing would be huge if we actually did it, but it’s easier said than done. We wouldn’t be paying pay triple the price for U.S. manufactured insulin that Canadians do if price fixing truly wasn’t allowed. So how does one prevent price fixing? Antitrust laws for one, along with a host of needed (mostly existing) government regulations. But what’s really needed is societal condemnation of businesses that fix prices and the regulators and politicians that aid and abet it. Unfortunately, Conservatives not only don’t object to price gouging, they defend it. The makers of penicillin didn’t gouge patients for that unique, life saving drug. Today, it is standard procedure for drugs with only a tiny fraction of the impact that penicillin had.

    Some things of course, are naturally socialized such as our defense, roads, and utilities. Private insurance is actually socialism, just not by government. Education must also be partly socialized unless you prefer that the poor receive none. The social safety net is socialism. Although some prefer our society to be littered with homeless people, especially the elderly, most agree that this would be unacceptable. The list goes on.

    But I also alluded to controls over unbridled capitalism independent from socialism itself. Would we really want to eliminate say, the inspection of restaurants and meat packing facilities? If your answer is yes, I refer you to Upton Sinclair’s, “The Jungle” to see what happened in the real world when there was no government regulation. Other examples of desirable regulation of capitalism abound. If you want, I can make a list.

  7. Steve says:

    There is a strong argument that homelessness was not as prevalent prior to the time the USA responded to Russian influence in our affairs with things like “The Other America” that prompted us to begin the “War on Poverty” which, for the most part, was solving itself at the time.
    Now we have a whole bunch of “assistance”, which was considered shameful in those days, now many using it consider a source of pride.
    “I get paid for doing nothing while you go off to work every day” Go to a grocery store on the first of the month and you might even hear it yourself. I have, from a guy who wanted me to use his EBT card to buy groceries, then pay him half for them. That would be fraud and it could have been a sting, but the guy really did say he gets paid for doing nothing. I avoid grocery shopping on the first of the month now, unless I am going to Trader Joe’s or Sprouts.

  8. Bill says:

    Rincon you were making some sense until your fatuous, gratuitous and specious comment that “Conservatives not only don’t object to price gouging, they defend it.” Multi-national Manufacturer and Conservative are not synonyms. I know a lot of “conservatives” and none of them favor price fixing. And, by by the way, the price differentials in the same drugs is primarily a result of your beloved governmental policies amd regulations. Thanks Thomas for your history lesson and Thanks to you also Steve. As someone who was on their own at age 16 and homeless, I depended on the good will of individuals and my own wits and diligence instead of government programs.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Rincon of course you were right, and conservatives cheer price fixing and price gouging.

    After all preventing either one of them would require government intervention and we can have that now can we?

    Heck, I remember round these parts, lots of these folks saying how any government rule that would prevent merchants from charging whatever price they can get, under any circumstance that would exist (flood, fire, nuclear war, gas shortages, etc.) are dang near communism (I’m doing my best Jackie Gleason as Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit here as I say this).

    It’s a real shame that these extreme right just cares so much more about making sure thieves can continue to thieves than they are about people continuing to love.

    But here they are.

  10. Nothing wrong with price gouging. Whatever the market dictates.

  11. Rincon says:

    Bill, I believe Thomas’ comment demonstrates that at least one Conservative sees nothing wrong with price gouging. I have seen similar attitudes expressed many times over the years.

    In a fair market, he actually has a point, but his blind spot is failing to entertain the possibility that price gouging is a valuable indicator that the market is likely distorted.

    We saw the results of this philosophy in the Middle Ages, when the peasants were “protected” by nobility, otherwise known as the rich. Of course, they were “protected” from other nobility. Not much government intervention going on in those days, unless we consider the nobles as government. I prefer to think of them as the ultimate capitalists, keeping their employees under their thumb.

    Tennessee Ernie Ford’s company store comes to mind as well. Nothing wrong with that. Move along folks.

    Bill, you’re right in part that the triple price of insulin is a result of government policies and regulations. Now, why don’t we specify which regulations are the cause? I hope you agree though, that no regulation, i.e., allowing collusion and price fixing would be far worse, although that is also partly responsible for our insane drug prices as well.

  12. Bill says:

    Thomas, the author, Richard Epstein is a former professor of mine and a brilliant conservative thinker and analyst. Richard is the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law, New York University Law School, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago.

  13. Bill says:

    Rincon. Other than persons who are, perhaps adherents of a absolute pure laissez-faire philosophy or purist Libertarians that essentially believe in no regulation, most people believe that some regulation of business is called for if you are to have a reasonably safe and orderly society. The devil, as always, is in the details.

  14. Rincon says:

    Right you are, Bill. The importance of the details is the reason we all have so much to discuss. To me though, “Nothing wrong with price gouging. Whatever the market dictates.” comes awfully close to pure lassez-faire conservatism.

  15. Rincon says:

    I’m glad you aren’t completely lassez-faire, Thomas. As Bill said, the devil is in the details. We will always have plenty to discuss.

  16. Rincon says:

    I happened across three items in Consumer Report which, I think, illustrate one objection I have to the Conservative way of thinking, and why there is indeed, something wrong with price gouging.

    1) They analyzed 800 cable bills submitted by readers – admittedly not a random sample – and found hidden charges amounting to an average of $450.00 per year. Hidden charges are defined as, “…bury the fees deep in the fine print of monthly bills, often provide confusing or inaccurate information about fees to prospective customers, and sometimes inaccurately blame the government for them.”
    2) In 2012 & ’13, the FTC issued warnings to 34 hotels and 11 online travel agencies, asking them to refrain from charging resort fees that aren’t disclosed in their advertised prices.” 31 of the hotels and 10 of the travel agencies continue this practice. The hotels and travel agencies are apparently chains, not single businesses.
    3) The average annual cost of a brand name drug has more than tripled from 2006 to 2017. If costs of drug production tripled, then I would think there would be three times as many drug company employees and three times as much infrastructure to support them I see no evidence of this. Consumer Reports though, found one reason; “…pharmaceutical companies can stifle such competition through a practice called ‘pay for delay,’ whereby they cut deals with the makers of generic drugs to delay putting the generics on the market.”

    The first is deceptive advertising and billing, the second is false advertising which, decades ago was called fraud. The third is collusion to manipulate the market, with a result much more lucrative than that obtained by mere price fixing. All are apparently legal these days, realistically if not technically.

    In example 1, only the sharpest consumers with plenty of time on their hands can detect many of the hidden fees. For examples 2 and 3, there is no way for even the sharpest consumer to avoid being fleeced. But Conservatives tacitly approve of these fraudulent practices and lionize the rich investors that profit by claiming that they are the ones that make our nation great. And it is Conservatives, primarily Republicans, that, over and over again, prevent the passage of laws to enforce ethical behavior.

    Theoretically, price gouging may be allowable, because market forces will limit it, but in the real world, it should always trigger an investigation.

  17. Bill says:

    Rincon, you have gone far afield from discussing ‘price gouging’ and list such things as false or deceptive advertising, hidden charges on hotel bills and collusion to manipulate markets. You lay all of this at the feet of the Republicans/Conservatives when I for one, can see little difference between the two parties. If you want to affix blame, in fairness you should find both political parties at fault.

    Actually there are laws in most states and some federal laws that address the ‘evils’ you cite. There is no federal statute that I am aware of that prohibits ‘price gouging’ as such but many states do have such laws to protect the public in case of disasters. Most of these laws deal with essential goods and services. Most states do also have fair trade practice laws as well.

    Query? Are you advocating Federal Legislation? We will probably have it if the Democrats like Bernie or Elizabeth become President and the Senate falls to the Democrats.

    When government gets involved in restricting market forces the result too often creates more problems than it solves. Venezuela comes to mind as a fairly recent example. We had friends there that went from being modestly successful business people to being impoverished.

    Rincon, you make a common mistake. Big Pharma, multinational corporations are not synonyms for Conservative Republicans.

  18. Rincon says:

    Thanks for your obviously thoughtful points. Naturally, I disagree somewhat 🙂

    I suppose if the states all have these laws to prevent this kind of behavior, then I should condemn the states for failing to enforce them, but if only a single state doesn’t have these laws, then it allows businesses to merely register in that state. In answer to your direct question, yes, I advocate federal legislation for something as universal as stealing money with a pen – legal arguments notwithstanding.

    I don’t think hidden charges, etc., are far afield, since these kinds of shenanigans are what enable price gouging. Finding an answer is certainly more difficult and hazardous than pointing out the problem. Making price gouging illegal is worthless simply because it’s too hard to define it, but I believe we can limit some of the behavior that makes price gouging possible.

    Referring to my first two examples, is there any reason that we can’t require any price given as the complete, delivered price unless clearly labeled otherwise next to said price?

    For the third example, simply require any business or set of individuals to publish in the newspapers or online equivalent, a clear summary of any agreements restraining trade. Most would avoid the publicity, and would be loath to draw the attention of regulators. Making agreements such as the one I mentioned presumptively anticompetitive would also be an alternative.

    I agree that if the government restricts market forces too much, it can create more problems than it solves, but would you agree that problems also occur if government regulates too little?

    I also agree that, to some extent, both parties are at fault, but it’s clear to me that Republicans are more egregious, especially in their rhetoric. I think you see it too. You say that both Republicans and Democrats are to blame, that there is little difference between them, but then say that if some particular Democrats are elected, we might see federal legislation aimed at these injustices. Why not if a Republican gets elected, since there is “little difference” between the two parties? In this space, it’s also clear. Those here who support Republicans are far more likely to advocate leaving government hands off such deceptive behavior, while those of us leaning Democrat are more likely to advocate regulation.

    You are right to point out that Big Pharma is not synonymous with Republicans, although Big Pharma donates 38% more money to Republican campaigns (58 vs 42%)

  19. Bill says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I’ve got some other priorities going on right now so I don’t have time to respond in detail but I’ll write a more lengthy response a bit later.

    One comment of yours deserves a fast response. You said:

    “Those here who support Republicans are far more likely to advocate leaving government hands off such deceptive behavior, while those of us leaning Democrat are more likely to advocate regulation.” You are both wrong and right. True Conservatives do not advocate leaving government hands off deceptive behavior at all. We do advocate generally leaving government hands off. Period. You would have been absolutely accurate if you had ended your sentence after the word off.

    How many times have the politicians and the bureaucrats lied to and deceived the public? Too often the hands of government become the bastions of deceptive behavior.

    A friend is fond of quoting H. L. Mencken as follows:

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H. L. Mencken.

  20. Rincon says:

    I found one more example in the same issue of Consumer Reports (1/2020 p.42, 45). Three pharmacy benefit managing companies (drug middlemen) dominate the U.S. market. Curiously, between 2013 and 2018, when the price of Humira went up (a mere) 18%, but PBM revenues for that drug increased 611%, such that these middlemen are now responsible for 40% of the cost of the drug. Industry wide, their income “only” doubled during the same time period. .
    Definition of oligarch: One of a small group of powerful people who control a country or an industry. Lemme see…three companies dominate the market. Yeah, it fits. Hey, we’re catching up with Russia.

    One reason for the huge rise: A “rebate program”. It gets complicated (feel free to read the article, “The Shocking Rise in Rx Drug Prices”). According to CR, “In other industries, that might be considered an illegal kickback, but….HHS, authorized by Congress, wrote an exception for these rebate payments to federal anti kickback laws.” Yep, they got Congress to specifically exempt them from laws designed to prevent price gouging.

    Thomas’ words, “Nothing wrong with price gouging. Whatever the market dictates.” Even a distorted market?

    As I said, price gouging is usually a result of a market distortion. In this case, I call it Corruption with a capital C unless someone can explain it to me otherwise. Welcome to the oligarchy – or is it a plutocracy? – known as USA.

    The great danger today isn’t too much government, it’s government run by only a few.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Those who can usually do, those that can’t usually quote others.

    It’s so classic for a far right wing lunatic to blame the government right? Too much poison in the water? Blame the government for not enforcing the laws (not the companies that pumped the poison into the water mind you just the government). Government paying $400 for a toilet seat? Don’t blame the private company ripping the American people off, blame the government. Opioids killing millions of Americans? Blame the government for not letting the free market do…whatever it will for as long as it will. Poison released from a mine into a waterway? Blame the government left to clean up the mess, not the mine company that bankrupted itself rather than pay for the cleanup.

    The words that strike the most fear in the country’s ears today are “we’re from Enron, Wells Fargo, Equifax, DuPont, Three Mile Islnd, Monsanto, and we’re here to help”

    You guys man.

  22. Anonymous says:

    “We’re from Boeing and we’re here to help”

    “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Friday that it is fining Boeing more than $3.9 million for installing faulty parts on approximately 133 of its 737 jets.

    The FAA said in a statement that Boeing did not sufficiently oversee its suppliers to make sure they complied with its quality assurance system, a decision that resulted in the installation of weakened parts that are located on the jets’ wings and help with takeoff and landing.

    The FAA also said that Boeing was made aware of the issues by suppliers and still certified the jets as airworthy.

    “Boeing knowingly submitted aircraft for final FAA airworthiness certification after determining that the parts could not be used due to a failed strength test,” the FAA said.”

    And I shudder when I think that the FAA, destroyed by the lunatic right wing nut in charge is saying this because it can ONLY mean that what happened was FAR more heinous.

  23. Steve says:

    It’s Boeing’s fault for overseeing it’s suppliers but government is totally innocent paying 400 bucks for hammers.

    Shammy the sham wow strikes again.

  24. Rincon says:

    Hey Bill: Our posts must have crossed. I’ve been out of town for several days, and so, only saw yours today. I believe you’re saying Conservatives generally advocate leaving government hands off almost everything, but should not leave hands off some deceptive behavior. Have I got that right?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s