Thanks to private property 7

There is much that we like about libertarianism, but have points of strong disagreement with most of the libertarians we listen to and read. The one we find ourselves most often in agreement with is John Stossel.

Here is his reminder of what we ought to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day: private property. The history of the Pilgrims bears a powerful message that private property is a way to life, liberty, and happiness, while communism is the road to starvation:

Had today’s politicians and opinion-makers been in power four centuries ago, Americans might celebrate “Starvation Day” this week, not Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims started out with communal property rules. When they first settled at Plymouth, they were told: “Share everything, share the work, and we’ll share the harvest.”

The colony’s contract said their new settlement was to be a “common.” Everyone was to receive necessities out of the common stock. There was to be little individual property.

That wasn’t the only thing about the Plymouth Colony that sounds like it was from Karl Marx: Its labor was to be organized according to the different capabilities of the settlers. People would produce according to their abilities and consume according to their needs. That sure sounds fair.

They nearly starved and created what economists call the “tragedy of the commons.”

If people can access the same stuff by working less, they will. Plymouth settlers faked illness instead of working the common property. The harvest was meager, and for two years, there was famine. But then, after the colony’s governor, William Bradford, wrote that they should “set corn every man for his own particular,” they dropped the commons idea. He assigned to every family a parcel of land to treat as its own.

The results were dramatic. Much more corn was planted. Instead of famine, there was plenty. Thanks to private property, they got food — and thanks to it, we have food today.

This doesn’t mean Pilgrims themselves saw the broader economic implications of what they’d been through. “I don’t think they were celebrating Thanksgiving because they’d realized that capitalism works and communal property is a failure,” says economist Russ Roberts. “I think there were just happy to be alive.”

I wish people understood. This idea that happiness and equality lie in banding together and doing things as a commune is appealing. It’s the principle behind the Soviet Union, Medicare, the Vietnam War, Obamacare and so on. …

The Pilgrims weren’t the first settlers on the East Coast of the New World to make this mistake.

Just a few years before, the colony of Jamestown was almost wiped out by the same idea.

Historian Edmund S. Morgan, in “American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia,” describes what happened in 1609-1610: “There are 500 people in the colony now. And they are starving. They scour the woods listlessly for nuts, roots and berries. And they offer the only authentic examples of cannibalism witnessed in Virginia. One provident man chops up his wife and salts down the pieces. Others dig up graves to eat the corpses. By spring only sixty are left alive.”

After that season, the colony was abandoned for years.

The lesson that a commons is often undesirable is all around us. What image comes to mind if I write “public toilet”? Consider traffic congestion and poor upkeep of many publicly owned roads. But most people don’t understand that the solution is private property.

When natural resources, such as fish and trees, dwindle, the first impulse is to say, “Stop capitalism. Make those things public property.” But they already are public — that’s the problem.

If no one owns the fishing rights to a given part of the ocean – or the exclusive, long-term logging rights to part of the forest – people have an incentive to get there first and take all they can before the next guy does. Resources are overused instead of conserved. We don’t maintain others’ property the way we maintain our own. …

No one starves when ranchers are allowed to own land and cattle. Or turkeys.

Private ownership does good things.

  • Kerry

    It is also important to remember that the early colonists were trying to build a society based on their reading of the Bible. The NT is clear that “all things were held in common.” One would be extremely hard pressed to find in the Bible a representative democracy; the type eventually established in America by the founding Fathers. The early colonists were familiar with slavery and monarchies, which are “appointed” by God.

    Fortunately for all of us Americans, these naive God-fearing thinkers were replaced with sounder thinking from people who understood the pitfalls and immense difficulties imposed on a civilization by Monarchy and State Church.
    For this, we can all be thankful this Thanksgiving Day.

    • liz

      Yes, ironically, even the Founders themselves, for the most part, attributed the success of the colonies, and the Revolution, to “the blessings of Providence”, etc. Yet it was private property that gave them success, and what motivated them in the fight to against the rule of the monarchy.

      • kerry

        Liz, private property was just one of the pieces to the American Experiment. There were so any other considerations leading to the success, some of which were enumerated in the Bill of Rights. By the time of the “Founders,” more then 150 years after Plymouth/Jamestown, more was at play then private property.

        • liz

          Yes, your right. I was just noting that, like Stossel mentions, they didn’t necessarily understand the “broader economic implications” at the time.
          In the same way, I don’t think they understood the broader implications of the 1st amendment, either. I think the only reason they didn’t establish a national church at the time was because there were too many competing Christian denominations to allow for one, NOT that they really thought we should be a secular society. They thought of themselves as a Christian nation.
          I’ve been reading Barton’s “Original Intent”, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think he’s right about the vast majority of the Founders “intent” to be a Christian nation. It wasn’t monolithic, but it was close. Sadly, atheism to most of them was the worst of all possible states, and they could not fathom morality existing without religion.
          The courts really have violated the original intent of the 1st amendment in many of their rulings since Everson vs. the Board of Education.

          • Kerry

            It has been a while since I read “Original Intent” so I cannot speak to your statements above, but I would encourage you to review anything said by Chris Rodda of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. she is the One Woman Wrecking Crew of David Barton. and she is nothing if not thorough. As you know, Barton’s scholarship is shoddy and he mine-quotes continuously.

            I think you also misapply the term “Christian” when referring to the Founders. It was not then defined as we understand it today, which is “evangelical.” in some sense. In addition, the Founders knew well the various states that approved of ONE religion and the problems inherent with that decision.

            Yes, the morality of the Christian founders…slavery, misogyny, etc.

            Finally, I thought I would share the review done by Chris Rodda on Amazon.

            1.0 out of 5 stars “Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice”, August 17, 2007


            Chris Rodda – See all my reviews
            (REAL NAME)

            Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

            This review is from: Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution & Religion (Paperback)

            “Because the portrayal of history so affects current policy, some groups have found it advantageous to their political agenda to distort historical facts intentionally. Those particularly adept at this are termed ‘revisionists.'”

            Who wrote these words? David Barton, in the foreword to Original Intent. And, Barton has certainly proved this statement to be true. No group has found it more advantageous to their political agenda to have “revisionists” as adept as himself on their side than the religious right.

            In Chapter 16 of Original Intent, “Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice,” Barton, after defining “historical revisionism” as “a process by which historical fact is intentionally ignored, distorted, or misportrayed in order to maneuver public opinion toward a specific political agenda or philosophy,” goes on to present and provide examples of nine methods employed by those who he accuses of being the “revisionists.”

            1. The Use of Patent Untruths
            2. The Use of Overly Broad Generalizations
            3. The Use of Omission
            4. The Use of Insinuations and Innuendos
            5. Impugning Morality
            6. The Use of “Faction”
            7. The Use of “Psychohistory” and “Psychobabble”
            8. A Failure to Account for Etymology
            9. A Lack of Primary Source References

            But, in order to conjure up examples of the use of these methods by others, Barton, as he does throughout his book, uses most of them himself. For his examples of “The Use of Patent Untruths,” he uses three of them — “A Lack of Primary Source References,” “The Use of Omission,” and…well…”The Use of Patent Untruths.”

            From “Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice,” Chapter 16 of Original Intent:


            “1. The Use of Patent Untruths

            The use of untruths was one of the earliest tools effectively employed by revisionists. For example, Robert Ingersoll, a well known political lecturer of the 1880s and 1890s, falsely declared:

            ‘[O]ur forefathers retired God from politics….The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others….Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world.'”


            Barton’s Ingersoll “quote” is created by starting with the opening statement of Ingersoll’s Centennial Oration, a speech about the Declaration of Independence, delivered in Peoria, Illinois on July 4, 1876:

            “One hundred years ago, our fathers retired the gods from politics..”(1)

            Then using these sentences from a lecture on Individuality, presented by Ingersoll three years earlier, in 1873:

            “The Declaration of Independence announces the sublime truth, that all power comes from the people. This was a denial, and the first denial of a nation, of the infamous dogma that God confers the right upon one man to govern others. It was the first grand assertion of the dignity of the human race. It declared the governed to be the source of power, and in fact denied the authority of any and all gods. Through the ages of slavery — through the weary centuries of the lash and chain, God was the acknowledged ruler of the world. To enthrone man, was to dethrone God.”(2)

            And, finally, going back to the 1876 Centennial Oration for the last sentence:

            “Our fathers founded the first secular government that was ever founded in this world. Recollect that. The first secular government; the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights, and no more; every religion has the same rights, and no more. In other words, our fathers were the first men who had the sense, who had the genius, to know that no church should be allowed to have a sword; that it should be allowed only to exert its moral influence.”(3)

            And what was it that Ingersoll, according to Barton, “falsely declared” in the sections of his writings from which the words are plucked to create the misquote in Original Intent? That the founders of the United States denied the “divine right of kings” by creating a government “by the people and for the people,” and a country in which there was religious freedom. Ingersoll’s statement that “our fathers retired the gods from politics,” (misquoted in Barton’s version as “[O]ur forefathers retired God from politics”), referred to the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, which gave the political power to the people rather than the aristocracy, the clergy, or a monarch.

            Barton, using the 9th method on his list, “A Lack of Primary Source References,” does not provide a primary source for his Ingersoll misquote. Barton’s source is “Ingersollia: Gems of Thought,” a collection of Ingersoll quotes arranged by topic — a book that Ingersoll himself said was unauthorized and inaccurate. The following letter to the editor of a newspaper, written by Ingersoll just a few months before his death in 1899, appears on the title page of the “Dresden Edition” of Ingersoll’s writings, the twelve volume edition published by Clinton P. Farrell, Ingersoll’s brother-in-law, and the only authorized publisher of his writings.

            “I see that you advertise in your paper “Ingersoll’s 44 Lectures–cloth” also “Ingersollia, or Gems of Thought.” I write this to let you know that the 44 Lectures are a fraud. They were made up from newspaper reports, filled with blunders and things I never said. The same is true of “Ingersollia” also of “Great Political Speeches.” The publishers are pirates. They wrong me, and deceive and defraud the public. The only correct, complete, and authorized editions of my writings are published by Mr. C.P. Farrell. I hope that you will refuse to deal in these frauds.”(4)

            1. Political Speeches of Robert G. Ingersoll, (New York: C.P. Farrell, 1914), 63.
            2. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, vol. 1, (New York: C.P. Farrell, 1900), 200-201.
            3. Political Speeches of Robert G. Ingersoll, (New York: C.P. Farrell, 1914), 74.
            4. ibid., title page.

            • liz

              Kerry- thanks very much! I do have a book by Rodda (“Liars for Jesus”, I think), but I wanted to look at both sides of the argument. This info you shared is very helpful.
              Even tho I agree that Barton is biased, I still have to agree with him in his assertion that a lot of the court decisions on school prayer, etc, were wrong.
              Just like leftist atheists are still doing, they were using these cases to impose their own interpretation on the First Amendment without regard to historical precedent.
              Even if I think it is pointless to pray, I still think voluntary prayer should be (as it historically has been) allowed to those who want to participate in it wherever they want to, according to the First Amendment’s declaration that “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.
              Its a fascinating subject, since these conflicts were already in play even at the time of the founding, and have continued till today.

            • liz

              One factor that was not in play at the time of the Founding, but is now, is Islam. That’s why I first tended to agree with these rulings against the free exercise of Christianity, because I thought if we applied it to them, we’d have to apply it to Muslims, which is an entire can of worms in itself. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that Islam deserves special treatment – it – and its practitioners – should be banned from the country to begin with as they are self-declared enemies of America, and of civilization, period.