Property rights saved the Pilgrims from starvation; a lack of property rights keeps Indians in poverty today.
Tomorrow, as you celebrate the meal the Pilgrims ate with Indians, pause a moment to thank private property.
I know that seems weird, but before that first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims nearly starved to death because they didn’t respect private property.
When they first arrived in Massachusetts, they acted like Bernie Sanders wants us to act. They farmed “collectively.” Pilgrims said, “We’ll grow food together and divide the harvest equally.”
Bad idea. Economists call this the “tragedy of the commons.” When everyone works “together,” some people don’t work very hard.
Likewise, when the crops were ready to eat, some grabbed extra food—sometimes picking corn at night, before it was fully ready. Teenagers were especially lazy and likely to steal the commune’s crops.
Pilgrims almost starved. Governor Bradford wrote in his diary, “So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could… that they might not still thus languish in misery.”
His answer: He divided the commune into parcels and assigned each Pilgrim his own property, or as Bradford put it, “set corn every man for his own particular. … Assigned every family a parcel of land.”