How A Failed Commune Gave Us What Is Now Thanksgiving
It’s wrong to say that America was founded by capitalists. In fact, America was founded by socialists who had the humility to learn from their initial mistakes and embrace freedom. One of the earliest and arguably most historically significant North American colonies was Plymouth Colony, founded in 1620 in what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. As I’ll outline in greater detail in tomorrow’s column, the original colony had written into its charter a system of communal property and labor. As William Bradford recorded in his Of Plymouth Plantation, a people who had formerly been known for their virtue and hard work became lazy and unproductive. Resources were squandered, vegetables were allowed to rot on the ground and mass starvation was the result. And where there is starvation, there is plague. After 2 1/2 years, the leaders of the colony decided to abandon their socialist mandate and create a system which honored private property. The colony survived and thrived and the abundance which resulted was what was celebrated at that iconic Thanksgiving feast.
As my friend Reuven Brenner has taught me, history is a series of experiments: The Human Gamble. Some gambles work and are adopted by history and some do not and should be abandoned by it. The problem is that the human gamble only works if there is a record of experimental outcomes and if decision makers consult that record. For many years, the story of the first failed commune of Plymouth Bay was part of the collective memory of American students. But Progressive Education found that story unhelpful and it has fallen into obscurity, which explains why (as I alluded to before) a well-educated establishment figure like Jared Bernstein would be unaware of it.
I’m often asked why our current leadership class forgets the lessons of the past so often. They are, after all, very smart men and women. Don’t they know that collectivism will fail?
No, they don’t. Not anymore. For much of our history, our leaders were educated in the principles which were to help them avoid errors once they have joined the ruling class. They studied to learn how to not misuse power. Now our leaders learn nothing of the dangers of abusing power: their education is entirely geared to its acquisition. All of their neurons are trained on that one objective – to get to the top. What they do when they get there is a matter for later. And what happens to the country when they’re done with their experiments is beside the point: after all, their experiments will not really affect them personally. History is the story of the limitations of human power. But the limits of power is a topic for people who doubt themselves and their right to rule, not the self-anointed.
That’s how it is now, and that’s how it was in 1620. The charter of the Plymouth Colony reflected the most up-to-date economic, philosophical and religious thinking of the early 17th century. Plato was in vogue then, and Plato believed in central planning by intellectuals in the context of communal property, centralized state education, state centralized cultural offerings and communal family structure. For Plato, it literally did take a village to raise a child. This collectivist impulse reflected itself in various heretical offshoots of Protestant Christianity with names like The True Levelers, and the Diggers, mass movements of people who believed that property and income distinctions should be eliminated, that the wealthy should have their property expropriated and given to what we now call the 99%. This kind of thinking was rife in the 1600s and is perhaps why the Pilgrim settlers settled for a charter which did not create a private property system.
But the Pilgrims learned and prospered. And what they learned, we have forgotten and we fade. Now, new waves of ignorant masses flood into parks and public squares. New Platonists demand control of other people’s property. New True Levelers legally occupy the prestige pulpits of our nation, secular and sacred. And now, as then, the productive class of our now gigantic, colony-turned-superpower, learn and teach again, the painful lessons of history. Collectivism violates the iron laws of human nature. It has always failed. It is always failing, and it will always fail. I thank God that it is failing now. Providence is teaching us once again.
Originally published on Townhall Finance.
Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of AffluentInvestor.com, 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 CNBC.com, 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 three of their seven children.
Trending Now on Affluent Christian Investor
Sorry. No data so far.