For years, former consumer advocate and journalist John Stossel, has been airing his special “The Tragedy Of The Commons” around Thanksgiving, in which he and guests discuss the basic economic principle that observes some of the most basic elements to our human nature.
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We should be teaching these aspects to our children through Thanksgiving at a young age, but we aren’t. As Stossel once wrote, “Every year around this time, schoolchildren are taught about that wonderful day when Pilgrims and Native Americans shared the fruits of the harvest. ‘Isn’t sharing wonderful?’ say the teachers. They miss the point.”
And Stossel is right, they are missing the point, thus so are our children. Our children used to read “Animal Farm” and other tales validating the rightness of American philosophies put in a manner children can understand. Now, however, if parents don’t do it, our statist government will teach them their own indoctrination ideology.
“The failure of Soviet communism is only the latest demonstration that freedom and property rights, not sharing, are essential to prosperity. The earliest European settlers in America had a dramatic demonstration of that lesson, but few people today know it,” Stossel wrote in his controversial column 6 years ago.
Our ancestors whom we recognize on Thanksgiving had their own failed experiment in “sharing” that was transplanted from England, but they wised up and quickly became capitalists. If they didn’t, then they would have died and we wouldn’t be reading and sharing this article today.
When the Plymouth Colony was first settled the Pilgrims lived and organized under a communal “sharing” system, and they almost paid for that mistake with every single life in the colony. Gov. William Bradford implemented dramatic reforms consistent with the philosophy of private property, which was most closely associated with Adam Smith and John Locke, and the results were dramatic in turn.
“So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented,” wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, “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 after much debate of things, [I] (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 colonists in Plymouth moved from socialistic “sharing” to private farming. The result was prosperity.
“This had very good success,” wrote Bradford, “for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. … By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. … ”
It was only when they acknowledged private property rights that the first Thanksgiving could be possible in November, 1623.
The tragedy of the commons was popularized as an economic theory by Garrett Hardin, but the principle goes much farther back.
In ancient Greece, as Stossel noted, Aristotle is widely remembered for his observation, “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.”
The enclosure movement in England, which led to over 5000 Inclosure Acts from 1750 to 1860, were centered on the analysis and economic principles championed by Adam Smith. Shared parcels of land led to overgrazing, because the notion of “common” resources separates those who share in those commons from the consequence of making the wrong decisions, leading to “shared” suffering not prosperity.
In one of my personal favorite quotes on the tragedy of the commons, Winston Churchill said, “the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
In 1968, ecologist Garrett Hardin explored this social dilemma in “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in the journal, Science. But why, over 300 years later, did we have to reteach ourselves basic economic principles predicated upon basic observations of human nature? To our Founding Fathers, these principles were just another few examples of “self-evident” truths, but despite Thanksgiving being celebrated every single year, we have forgotten the real Thanksgiving message, which is that private property and the freedom to make our own choices are essential to total freedom and true prosperity.