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.

A lesson in socialism that hits home and hits hard

Polls show many Americans think socialism is just fine, thank you.

According to an IBD editorial today, one poll found 40 percent of Democrats say socialism is the best form of government and more than half of Democrats (57 percent) say that socialism has a positive impact on society.

Another poll found half of Democrats have a positive few of socialism and just 34 percent take a negative view. That poll found a third of all Americans have a positive view of socialism, with just over half having a negative view.

A Harvard poll reported on by WaPo found that 51 percent of so-called millennials do not support capitalism. Only 42 percent said they support it, but only 33 percent said they favor socialism. Support may be different from having a positive or negative view.

Perhaps these people could be persuaded by a real world example of just how socialism works, or fails to work, in a meaningful way that affects something near and dear to many people.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that socialist Venezuela’s company that produces 80 percent of the beer consumed in the country is shutting down its last beer making facility on Friday.

Now, that is a hardship.

Demonstrators protest outside brewery in Venezuela. (European Pressphoto Agency)

Obama tells Argentine students capitalism and socialism are just theories, choose what works

Ramirez cartoon from today’s IBD

“A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”
Milton Friedman

While in Argentina recently Obama had the audacity to say — in a country that has experienced firsthand the ravages of socialism — to an audience of young students that their generation should not worry their fuzzy little minds with abstract theories such as capitalism and socialism or communism but just choose what works.

He grandly expounded:

I guess to make a broader point, so often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist.  And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right?  Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property.  And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works.  You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.

And I said this to President Castro in Cuba.  I said, look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education — that’s a huge improvement from where it was.  Medical care — the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care.  That’s a huge achievement. They should be congratulated. But you drive around Havana and you say this economy is not working. It looks like it did in the 1950s. And so you have to be practical in asking yourself how can you achieve the goals of equality and inclusion, but also recognize that the market system produces a lot of wealth and goods and services. And it also gives individuals freedom because they have initiative.

And so you don’t have to be rigid in saying it’s either this or that, you can say — depending on the problem you’re trying to solve, depending on the social issues that you’re trying to address what works. And I think that what you’ll find is that the most successful societies, the most successful economies are ones that are rooted in a market-based system, but also recognize that a market does not work by itself.  It has to have a social and moral and ethical and community basis, and there has to be inclusion. Otherwise it’s not stable.

And it’s up to you — whether you’re in business or in academia or the nonprofit sector, whatever you’re doing — to create new forms that are adapted to the new conditions that we live in today.

It is not a theory. It is history. Socialism and communism have failed time and again while capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty, providing jobs and comfortable lifestyles and ample liberty.

In a 1990 article an Argentine business consultant described how socialism “worked” for Argentina:

Perón nationalized the railroads, airlines, buses, com­munications, foreign trade, and energy, among other ac­tivities. The immediate effects were a drastic deteriora­tion of service and huge deficits. …

The nationalized railroads lose $4 million a day. Grossly overmanned, the equipment is rapidly deteriorating and the service is disastrous. … Aerolineas Argentinas, the national airline, is just as bad. It costs the taxpayer $900,000 a day in subsidized losses, and international passengers are forced to pay fares that are 40 percent higher than average. …  Similar stories can be told about energy, water, and the postal service. In each case the government has enacted laws preserving the monopoly status of the state-owned companies. …

“That which government does not own it controls with regulation.”

An Investor’s Business Daily editorial today points out: “At one time, Argentina was one of the five richest nations in the world, with a per capita income rivaling that of the U.S. But for most of the last 100 years Argentina has suffered under socialism and then economic collapse. It now operates as virtually a Third World country. Yes, Argentina, by all means: Choose what works.”