Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving

by Dr. Peter C. Calcagno
Professor of Economics at the College of Charleston

As we are sitting around the table this year giving thanks for our friends and family and getting ready to enjoy turkey and football we should remember why the pilgrims gave thanks. It was not just for the bountiful harvest and their survival, or for the agricultural knowledge they gained from the American Indians. What they were truly thankful for was the institution of private property. As Gary Galles and Richard Ebelling each explain the Pilgrims of Plymouth had tried an experiment with common property and it failed miserably. The colonists had started out with collective farming and were starving to death Governor William Bradford wrote:

"For this community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontentment and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort . . . all being to have alike, and all to do alike . . . if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them."

He decided drastic steps were necessary and he privatized the farms.

"All their victuals were spent . . . no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length . . . the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest among them) 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 . . . "

The end of the story we all know: A bountiful harvest for which they gave thanks. So when you sit down to give thanks remember Governor Bradford and give thanks for the birth of private property rights in the colonies, which are the corner stone of free-market capitalism.

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