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Economic Sense

RSS By: Matt Bogard,

Matt's primary interest is in the biotech industry and ag policy.

Thanksgiving: A Lesson In Agricultural Economics

Nov 19, 2009

By Matt Bogard

The first Thanksgiving story provides an interesting lesson in agricultural economics.  Foremost, the celebration was about thanking God for abundance. However, an important aspect is what resulted from a move away from a socialist or common property model of organizing and allocating resources (imposed on them by the Colony’s Sponsors) to a system of private property rights.

Governor William Bradford's comments in 1622 describe the perverse incentives that resulted in the absence of property rights and redistribution of work and wealth:

“The experience that was had … that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong… had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice."

In 1623, they embraced the incentives of private property and capitalism:

“They had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression…By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the faces of things were changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

The first Thanksgiving was a great example of agricultural productivity, given the proper incentives.

 The source for these excerpts can be found within a much longer article at the Foundation for Economic Education here.

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