Thanksgiving and Capitalism

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Dear Readers: Smart and I will be blogging lightly over the next two weeks. She and I are planning some thoughtful analysis of the American Healthcare System, in light of recent discussions among the newly-elected Democrat Congressional membership.  In part, it is in response to an analysis of this subject by one of my blogging icons, Dean Esmay.  I thought the better of leaving a comment in the comments section of his blog, because I wanted to delve into the topic further and in a more scholarly fashion.

Also, this marks the start of the holiday season.  Like many of you, Smart and I will be busy with family and friends.  My dear husband is teasing me about my blogging distraction, so I need to step away from the keyboard a bit. 

In the meantime, the following article from Christian Business Daily brings together economics and history in an elegant way.  Happy Thanksgiving!

William Bradford & America’s (First) Failed Flirtation with Socialism

by Rick Williams Jr.

Both state and federal governments in the United States ought to take a very simple lesson from America’s first failed experiment with socialism.

The Pilgrims are generally credited with starting the Thanksgiving tradition. What many people forget to attribute to them, however, are business and political practices that would’ve set America’s future on a much different path. America, in fact, would be a very different place today, if not for the actions of one brave man.

It is common knowledge that the Pilgrims settled in America in 1620 for religious freedom. Driven by a desire to worship their Creator free from the decrees of mother England, they risked all they owned to establish a colony at Plymouth and further of the gospel of Jesus Christ. William Bradford left no doubt as to the Pilgrims’ intentions:

“…they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.”

Bradford was born in the small English village of Austerfield in 1590. His parents died when Bradford was a young child. Bradford’s grandparents, along with some uncles, raised the young orphan and taught him the trade of “husbandry.” William was a sickly boy and, in addition to studying history, philosophy, theology, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, the young lad looked to the Scriptures for comfort. Bradford embraced Christ and, as he grew, he increasingly came under the influence of the Separatists. Despite the disapproval of his family, Bradford fully accepted their beliefs. He united with the Separatists and, due to the persecution in England; he fled with the sect to Amsterdam in 1608. It was from Amsterdam, at the age of 30, that Bradford and the Pilgrims decided to strike out for the New World.

The Pilgrims knew that the new Colony would need a means of support—an economy. King James I of England also knew this. As the late and renowned free-market economist Kirk Russell noted:

“When the Pilgrim leaders sought from the king of England, James I, his permission to settle in America, James asked his chief secretary, ‘What profit might arise in the part they intend?’ ‘Fishing,’ the secretary replied. ‘So God have my soul,’ declared King James, ’tis an honest trade. ‘Twas the Apostles’ own calling.'”

So the Pilgrims’ plans were to catch fish, dry them, and ship them back to England—hopefully at a profit. This group of highly intelligent and highly motivated men presented their plans to a group of British merchants known as The Virginia Company. The Pilgrims were able to secure from these merchants an investment of 7,000 English pounds—a large sum of money in those days. With this money, the Pilgrims were able to purchase supplies, seed for crops, tools, and also hire a ship to carry them across the Atlantic—the Mayflower.

On December 16, 1620, the tiny ship loaded with “tools and weapons, a stock of dried and salted foods, a few goats, pigs, and chickens” landed at Plymouth Rock. Their hardy Christian faith and work ethic enabled them to hang on with tenacity, despite battles with the elements and Indians. The Pilgrims also experienced the devastating “Starving Time” when half of them perished from malnutrition, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. This time of want was due primarily to their unbiblical economic system.

For the first two years of the settlement, the colonists labored under an economic system that they called, “The Common Course and Condition.” This was a primitive and simple form of socialism. The family households commonly shared whatever products they could produce. If one family worked diligently, rising early, working hard until sundown, and produced a bumper crop, while his neighbor lay in bed until noon and produced little, they shared equally the sum of both. There was no incentive to work hard and apply one’s God-given talents and abilities. This system produced consistent shortages. There was never enough food for everyone. It also produced squabbles among the colonists. There was resentment and envy—predictable results in socialist economies. Fortunately, the colonists had elected a young, but wise and godly governor for the colony—William Bradford. In 1623, Bradford recognized the failure the “Common Course.” Bradford would later write that this failed economic system “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment.”

Bradford had a better plan. Each family would be given a piece of land based on the size of their family. Larger families received larger tracts. Each household was allowed to grow corn for their own families and to do with it what they wished. The results were phenomenal.

“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.”

While under the original system, the women of the colony had complained that they were “oppressed.” The Pilgrims experience proved that a biblically based economic system could provide liberty and a “family-friendly” means of production: “The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.” Bradford had recognized that “the primary agency of economic planning is the family, as the primary owner of property.” Bradford realized that the family and ownership of the means of production were an unbeatable economic formula. This recognition caused the economy of the fledgling settlement to flourish and when 60 more settlers arrived in 1623, there was more than enough food for them as well. And despite continued challenges from Indians, pirates, and sometimes harsh weather conditions, the little colony prospered as God blessed their steadfast faithfulness.

Bradford’s unwavering faith in God amazed even the Indians. During one particularly dry season, the colonists had no other option but to pray for rain. Bradford would later write how God abundantly answered that prayer:

“The rains came, without wind, or thunder or any violence and by abundant degrees it wetted the earth and soaked the crops. Within a quick period of time, the decayed corn and other fruits began to wonderfully revive. Even the Indians were astonished to behold the transformation. And afterwards all through the hot summer months, God sent seasonable showers. Through God’s blessings, He caused a fruitful and liberal harvest to our comfort and rejoicing.”

A group of Puritans would also establish a colony in Salem in 1630 and the economic foundations laid by these two groups would eventually make America the financial powerhouse it is today.

William Bradford went to be with his Savior on May 9, 1657 at the age of 68. The lessons Bradford and the Pilgrims have taught us have allowed them to become “stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work” and made America the primary source of funding for missionary endeavors around the world. It is a lesson our nation so desperately needs to revisit.

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5 Responses to “Thanksgiving and Capitalism”

  1. Heather Y Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving! You might like to check out my post on health care for some good links:

    http://castlefairchild.com/?p=71

  2. Samaha Says:

    Give me liberty or give me death! At the age of fourteen I experienced full blast socialism, not communism, but supposedly the purest form of socialism and it was no picnic. I would never want to experience it again.

    Praise be to god for this beautiful country!

    Happy Thanksgiving Isis and Smart!

  3. rusty57 Says:

    I don’t want to spoil the mood of this thanksgiving holiday, but I’ve got to say something about the historical revisionism taken from the article by Rick Williams. As a Christian businessman, he apparently can’t come to terms with the fact that the pilgrims failed experiment with socialism was inspired by their rigidly literal interpretation of the New Testament!

    Today’s conservative Christians, especially those preaching the prosperity gospel, have ignored the multitude of verses in the Bible condemning people just for their ability to achieve success and gain wealth. He ought to look up a few gospel verses such as: the parable of the rich man found in Matthew 19 v.16-24, or this verse from Mark 10. v.25 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Or Luke ch.1 v.53 “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

    Did they come up with his idea for The Common Course and Condition on their own, or was this socialist experiment inspired by the following passage from the Book of Acts that describes how the early Christians lived, and has been the inspiration for Christian socialists and liberation theology ideas ever since:

    Acts 4:32-37:

    32 “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (King James Version)

    Today’s biblical literalists somehow have managed to ignore verses like these that advocate socialism and communalism.

  4. analyst Says:

    rusty57,

    The Biblical passage in acts you quote does not command or even advocate anyone to that lifestyle. It is only a narrative of what they did.

    I view those things done as start up investments, to grow the infant church, to move it on its way as fast as possible. Fundamental faith and grace mandate that no law be made of it or any such thing, only to be imposed upon us as you might spin it here in your post, while yet that lifestyle can be practiced in freedom if we wanted to.

    Interview me, I’m in need if you believe really this way…send me the money you’ve laid at an apostle’s feet. Have you even found an apostle’s feet for this first step? Is your faith really here?

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