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Affluent Christian Investor | October 18, 2017

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First Thanksgiving Was a Lesson on Socialism

(Photo by Ben Franske) (CC BY) (Resized/Cropped)

(Photo by Ben Franske) (CC BY) (Resized/Cropped)

Eight years ago, almost immediately after the election of Barack Obama, I was a guest on a main stream media financial network. My job was to debate Jared Bernstein, a left-wing polemicist who worked for a union-funded think tank.

I told a story about the original Thanksgiving, and how the memoirs of the governor of the colony record that the colonists had changed their economic model from a communist one based on the pagan philosopher Plato to a private property one based on the teachings of Moses in the Torah. Bernstein scoffed at the information, dismissing it as “revisionism.”

I challenged him, asking him if he had ever read Of Plymouth Plantation, which is William Bradford’s first-hand account of what had happened. He averred that he had not, and so I asked him how he could reject information from a source which he’d never even read. He quickly changed the subject.

Not long after that Bernstein was appointed to be a member of the Obama economic team, serving as chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. The subsequent nationalization of banks and auto companies and the lackluster recovery and low work force participation rates (not unlike the idleness which was seen under collectivism in Plymouth Colony) showed that Bernstein never did get around to reading Bradford’s account, nor to learning its lessons.

And its lessons are important. When people get “paid” even when they don’t work, the results are always the same: People don’t work.

As Bradford wrote, “The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice.”

A realistic understanding of human nature sees the family as the central driver of economic progress, because in a family the adults almost always create more wealth than they consume themselves directly. Most of the fruit of their labor goes to the benefit of their family towards whom they have a strong affection grounded in their created nature.

When Plato’s utopian ideas for communal family are applied in the real world, even in the limited context of economic communalism, the results are enervating to labor:

“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 many husbands well brook it.”

Not surprisingly, the colony starved, and where there is starvation, plague follows. But the people of Plymouth Plantation consulted the scriptures and each other.

“At length, after much debate of things, the Governor … gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves … And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end.”

After the starving years, things turned around rapidly. The culture of the colony shifted from shiftlessness to diligence when families were allowed to keep the produce of their labor. Yes, the part of the story we already know, about how the colonists learned from the Indians about how to grow crops in the New World, is true. But possession of knowledge about how to do something means nothing when the system of economics deprives people of the reasons for doing that thing.

“This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than 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 allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

Colonists were able to learn from the necessity of their circumstances. With only a year or two of provisions, they had only a year or two of margin before they were forced to learn or die. The architects of their social order were in London, far removed from the frontier and its risks. They could read about the world in books, and indulge the faddish reemergence of Platonic philosophy which preceded the Plymouth expedition.

Bradford realized the spiritual roots of the error which had been starving his people and the spiritual roots of the solution.

“The experience that was had in this common course and condition … may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s … and that the taking away of property … would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.”

After eight years of movement towards collectivism, and rising poverty as well as plunging labor participation rates, there is no evidence that Bernstein or any of the other “best and brightest” members of the administration have learned the lessons of the failure of collectivism. The social engineers almost never do learn; they don’t have to when others suffer the consequences of their grand schemes. But there are at least some reasons to believe that perhaps the country is waking up to the reality that our central planners have really turned out not to be “wiser than God.”


Article originally published on Christian Post.

Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of, and Senior Fellow in Business Economics at The Center for Cultural Leadership.

Jerry has compiled an impressive record as a leading thinker in finance and economics. He worked as an auditor and a tax consultant with Arthur Anderson, as Vice President of the Beechwood Company which is the family office associated with Federated Investors, and has consulted in various privatization efforts for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He founded the influential economic think tank, the Allegheny Institute, and has lectured extensively at universities, businesses and civic groups.

Jerry has been a member of three investment committees, among which is Benchmark Financial, Pittsburgh’s largest financial services firm. Jerry had been a regular commentator on Fox Business News and Fox News. He was formerly a CNBC Contributor, has guest-hosted “The Kudlow Report”, and has written for, National Review Online, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as many other publications. He is the author of The Bush Boom and more recently The Free Market Capitalist’s Survival Guide, published by HarperCollins. Jerry is the President of Bowyer Research.

Jerry consulted extensively with the Bush White House on matters pertaining to the recent economic crisis. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, The International Herald Tribune and various local newspapers. He has been a contributing editor of National Review Online, The New York Sun and Townhall Magazine. Jerry has hosted daily radio and TV programs and was one of the founding members of WQED’s On-Q Friday Roundtable. He has guest-hosted the Bill Bennett radio program as well as radio programs in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Jerry is the former host of WorldView, a nationally syndicated Sunday-morning political talk show created on the model of Meet The Press. On WorldView, Jerry interviewed distinguished guests including the Vice President, Treasury Secretary, HUD Secretary, former Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice, former Presidential Advisor Carl Rove, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and publisher Steve Forbes.

Jerry has taught social ethics at Ottawa Theological Hall, public policy at Saint Vincent’s College, and guest lectured at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate Heinz School of Public Policy. In 1997 Jerry gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Robert Morris University. He was the youngest speaker in the history of the school, and the school received more requests for transcripts of Jerry’s speech than at any other time in its 120-year history.

Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest five of their seven children.


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