I just learned from an article entitled Our Forefather’s Failure (at LibertyUnbound.com) that the colonies at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown tried both free market and communist systems – long before Karl Marx was born.
The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in December 1620, and in spite of help from the Native Americans, half of them died the first year as a result of their initial system. During the second year, more of them died. They would quickly learn that their initial system was tragically incompatible with human nature. It was simply unnatural.
The colonists had the ideal conditions for their initial system because they all had a reputation as virtuous hard working people, they all were of the same race, religion, politics, and nationality; and of course, they all had agreed to this system voluntarily. They also knew that failure meant death.
Although the colonists supposedly had their first Thanksgiving after their first harvest, they simply weren’t producing and storing enough food, which lead to starvation, disease, and discontent. Their first solution was to institute beatings for those who did not work hard enough, but this had little effect on productivity, and it further increased discontent.
The colonists astutely observed that their system tended to retard productivity while breeding confusion and discontent. We know this because they wrote about it in their journals. Clearly, their initial system was incompatible with human nature.
By the spring of 1623 the Pilgrims feared they would not survive another winter, so in desperation, they adopted a radically different system, and it saved their lives. Productivity increased, and in 1623, they actually had their first real reason for Thanksgiving.
Which system failed the colonists initially, and which radically different system saved them? Which system was so incompatible with human nature, and which system was so compatible with human nature? Which system was so ugly, and which system was so beautiful?
According to their original governing document, the Mayflower Compact, they shared everything produced by any one of them – from each according to his ability – to each according to his need. The result was that only a small percentage of them worked hard, and the rest were freeloaders to varying degrees. They even left food rotting on the vine! This reminds me of the saying by the people of the USSR, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”
Then, in the spring of 1623, the surviving colonists decided to let each person keep the fruits of his labor, and the colony’s total output increased so much that they were never hungry again.
The governor wrote in his journal that under their initial (communist) system some of them claimed to be too sick to work, and they were so convincing that it would have been the height of tyranny to make them work. Then, after they learned they could keep the fruits of their labor, they sprang from their beds and began working the fields!
Communism was killing the colonists at Plymouth Rock, and by switching to a free market system, they became more productive and saved themselves – in a single growing season.
The transition from communism to free markets still lacked full property rights however. Whereas, each individual owned the fruits of his labor, he did not own the land he worked, and thus he did not own any improvements he made to that land.
In 1623, the colonists were still growing food on parcels of land that were reassigned by random lots each year, which they astutely observed was a disincentive for each farmer to make permanent improvements to his parcel of land because in the following year, someone else would inherit the fruits of any labor he devoted to improvements. Therefore, in 1624, they adopted full property rights where everyone owned the land he worked, and the result was another productivity boost. Whereas, the first step toward property rights and the free market increased productivity enough to feed everyone, the move to full property rights produced enough extra food to export and trade for furs and other goods.
The article goes on to explain the similar experience in Jamestown:
Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America, established in Virginia in 1607, had an experience similar to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Early years of starvation were followed by converting to a system of property rights and a free market, which brought abundance. Under collectivism, less than half of every shipload of settlers survived the first 12 months at Jamestown. Most of the work was done by only one-fifth of the men, to whom the socialist system gave the same rations as to the others. During the winter of 1609–10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from 500 to 60.
But when Jamestown converted to a free market, there was “plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure,” wrote the colony secretary Ralph Hamor in 1614. Under the previous system, he said, “we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”
The article didn’t mention the Roanoke colony, which just disappeared, and many speculate that they were killed by the Native Americans, but it is far more likely that they were killed by communism.
Although both my first hand experience and observations as well as my research and analysis have long since led me to conclude that the free market and property rights are superior to communism, I would have believed that communism could have worked in the case of the first American colonies because they had every advantage one could give communism. They had already unanimously agreed to communism. They all shared the same race, nationality, religion, political views and economic views. Failure meant starvation, and slackers were beaten, but in spite of every advantage possible, communism was a catastrophic systemic failure in the first American colonies.
Consider that the colonists at Plymouth Rock had no historical precedent on which to evaluate communism vs. the free market, and yet when communism failed them, they invented and adopted a complete free market system with full property rights in just two years.
In just four years, the colonists proved that that communism was a very unnatural and ugly thing, and that free-market and property rights were a very natural and beautiful thing.
Our ancestors’ understanding of the superiority of the free market and property rights made us the dominant nation on earth; whereas, today we are rapidly losing that status. Could it be that Americans have forgotten the hard won knowledge of our ancestors?
Consider that the President of the United States has 400 years of additional historical precedent as well as a Harvard education, and yet he still doesn’t understand how the free market is superior to communism. He says that that when the government forcibly takes the fruits of your labor and gives it to others to “spread the wealth around”, then that’s “good for everybody”.
Those colonists at Plymouth Rock, who seem so much more in touch with reality than the President of the United States, remind me of small town Americans of my childhood. Of course, the President sees small town Americans as basically racists who have “antipathy toward those who are different” and who “cling to their guns and religion”.
Although, the President of the United States is a dilettante, whose image was manufactured by the media, progressives have told me that he is right because communism in early America was too soon. They claim that it is not human nature to be a freeloader and that the people themselves have learned and would no longer be freeloaders. However, the Danish proved that 90% still prefer to be freeloaders when they can – even when they can make more money working.