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Amazon, the Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving

November 21, 2018

by Byron Schlomach, Ph.D.
November 21, 2018

This Thanksgiving, we should be thankful that the United States still enjoys the benefits of prosperity-producing free enterprise. But we should also regret the extent to which prosperity-retarding socialism has crept into virtually every area of our economy. Whether it’s government efforts to land Amazon’s second headquarters, to redirect resources to downtowns, or to see everyone gets the same healthcare, socialism saps our enterprise, our prosperity, and our souls.

Few Americans know that one of the earliest examples of socialism put into actual practice occurred in America, carried out by those who inspired our Thanksgiving holiday. Plymouth Colony, established by the Pilgrims, started out as a socialist paradise, with everyone assigned jobs for the collective. William Bradford, the nearly constantly re-elected governor of the colony, wrote of this experiment with communal living in his history, drawn from his diary.

A few years into the socialist experiment, constant food shortages and morale-sapping bickering forced the Pilgrim colonists to rethink. Doubtless, their discussions about how to “obtain a better crop…, so that they might not continue to endure the misery of want” sounded much like those that occurred in a farm village in China in 1978, as told by National Public Radio. Farmers in Xiaogang village agreed that communal farming destroyed incentives to work hard. Their Communist-defying move toward private farming required that all agree to raise the children of any arrested.

The self-governed Pilgrims’ move to private farming did not risk arrest. The results, though, were remarkable, much like in Xiaogang 350 years later. As Bradford said, “This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor [Bradford] or any other could devise…The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability…”

Clearly, full-blown socialism has been shown to “retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort,” in Bradford’s words. But free enterprise, to the extent that it exists, is so powerful that if implemented on a limited basis, socialism’s prosperity-robbing effects go well-hidden. But for government’s interference the world over, how much more innovation could have occurred in healthcare, in energy production, or in education?

Or, for that matter, were it not for government’s socialistic efforts to influence and direct the location of companies’ facilities, like Amazon’s headquarters, what other innovative and efficient competitors might have arisen? After all, potential startup competitors can hardly expect to compete when big competitors get special tax breaks and outright subsidies.

The complaints of a self-professed socialist like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about Amazon’s headquarters contest ring hollow when you realize Amazon was just responding to the incentives of socialistic efforts on the part of governments to shape and influence the flow of resources. History teaches that in any socialistic system larger than a small farming village, the few decision-makers at the top become rich while everyone else languishes.

Bradford admonished that, regarding their socialist experiment’s failure, “Let none argue that this is due to human failing…” Instead, he said, it was the fault of that “plan of life itself.” As Bradford himself might say, this latest episode with Amazon “did at least greatly diminish the mutual respect that is so important should be preserved amongst them.”

And so, this Thanksgiving, let us relearn the lesson of the Pilgrims. And when it comes to recognizing that “another plan of life was fitter for them,” socialism in any amount, at any level, was not it.

Byron Schlomach, Ph.D., is the Director of the Oklahoma-based 1889 Institute. He is also the co-author of the new Goldwater Institute-1889 Institute paper, “A Win-Win for Consumers and Professionals Alike: An Alternative to Occupational Licensing.”



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