Thanksgiving Pilgrims discovered that freedom works, socialism fails

With the Thanksgiving holiday now upon us, millions of children will hear the story of the First Thanksgiving of 1621. The standard story as told in schools and the media depicts the First Thanksgiving as a celebration of the Pilgrims’ bountiful harvest and cooperation with the Indians. What the schools do not teach, however, is that a fuller account of the Pilgrims’ story reveals a failure of socialism and a triumph of private property and free enterprise.

The Plymouth Colony started as a type of commune, or socialist community.

The members of the Plymouth colony had arrived in the New World with a plan for collective property ownership. Reflecting the current opinion of the aristocratic class in the 1620s, their charter called for farmland to be worked communally and for the harvests to be shared.

Interestingly, the colonists’ communist ideology was derived not from Karl Marx, who had not yet been born, but from Plato.

The charter of the Plymouth Colony reflected the most up-to-date economic, philosophical and religious thinking of the early 17th century. Plato was in vogue then, and Plato believed in central planning by intellectuals in the context of communal property, centralized state education, state centralized cultural offerings and communal family structure…This collectivist impulse reflected itself in various heretical offshoots of Protestant Christianity with names like The True Levelers, and the Diggers, mass movements of people who believed that property and income distinctions should be eliminated, that the wealthy should have their property expropriated and given to what we now call the 99%.

The experiment in collectivism failed.

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.

The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

As Governor Bradford explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized):

“For the young men that were 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 recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”

Because of the disincentives and resentments that spread among the population, crops were sparse and the rationed equal shares from the collective harvest were not enough to ward off starvation and death. Two years of communism in practice had left alive only a fraction of the original number of the Plymouth colonists.

To their credit, the colonists finally realized their error and changed course. They re-introduced private property, and allowed families to keep or trade whatever surplus they produced. As a result, conditions for the colonists improved significantly. As Governor Bradford recorded in his diary

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, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.

And Governor Bradford seems to have interpreted the experience of the colony as an empirical rejection of Platonic communism.

The experience that was had in this common course [common property] and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst the Godly and sober men, may well convince of the vanity and conceit of Plato’s and other ancients; — that the taking away of property, and bringing into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.

So there you have it; the lesson of the First Thanksgiving is a triumph of freedom arising out of a failed attempt at socialism. The story must be quite damaging to progressivism, because during the Thanksgiving season three years ago, a progressive propaganda sheet known as The New York Times attempted to refute it. The progressive counterargument is based on two main points. First, common property in the Plymouth Colony did not result in famine, and the colony’s abandonment of common property was not due to failure. Second, the Plymouth Colony, as a for-profit corporation, cannot fairly be deemed socialist.

The first point seems to be contradicted by the evidence, in particular, by Bradford’s journal, in which he mentioned hunger and famine numerous times.

Now the wellcome time of harvest aproached, in which all had their hungrie bellies filled. But it arose but to a litle, in comparison of a full years supplie; partly by reason they were not yet well aquainted with the manner of Indean corne, (and they had no other,) allso their many other imployments, but cheefly their weaknes for wante of food, to tend it as they should have done. Also much was stolne both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable, and much more after ward…

So how do progressives explain why the colonists abandoned communal property?

Bradford did get rid of the common course — but it was in 1623, after the first Thanksgiving, and not because the system wasn’t working. The Pilgrims just didn’t like it. In the accounts of colonists, Mr. Pickering said, “there was griping and groaning.”

“Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men, and women don’t want to do the laundry of the bachelors,” he said.

In other words, the system was working except that it wasn’t. Which is why people were “griping and groaning”–the system had failed. And it failed for the very reason we would expect, namely, a Tragedy of the Commons that undermined incentives (“Bachelors didn’t want to feed the wives of married men…”).

Now consider the progressives’ second major point.

Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.

“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” said Richard Pickering, a historian of early America…

Well, words have meaning, and a society that replaces private property with collective ownership of the means of production meets the textbook definition of socialism. If that’s not socialism, then the word has no meaning. This remains true even if the colony as a whole sought to make a profit by trading with the rest of the world. The Pilgrims may have been capitalists when it came to exporting furs, but the essential fact is that production for domestic consumption was organized socialistically.

In summary, the story of the First Thanksgiving illuminates two crucial and eternal truths. First, collectivism always fails. Second, progressives, to defend their socialist beliefs, will deploy the most appalling sophistry, specious reasoning, and intellectual dishonesty.

The New York Times somehow neglected to interview Leo “The Miller” Martin, a local historian in Plymouth. In the first video below, Leo narrates the saga of the Pilgrims, and addresses the economic issues specifically at the 23:30 mark. The second video below also does a good job laying out the basic facts.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!



Is socialized medicine more efficient?

Advocates of socialized medicine often claim that government-run medical systems are more efficient than the mostly private and for-profit system that prevails in the United States. As evidence, advocates of socialized medicine cite the fact that the U.S. spends a greater percentage of GDP on medical care than do countries with government-run systems. So popular is this argument that when we participated in a live debate a few years ago at UD, our opponent deployed it against us. Similarly, this PBS report suggests that U.S. healthcare is relatively inefficient because the U.S. spends more on medical care than does any other OECD country.

Undoubtedly the U.S. system contains significant inefficiencies, and some aspects of care are no doubt more efficient in other countries. We cannot, however, deduce efficiency of the system as a whole by looking at costs alone, because the quantity and quality of healthcare in the U.S. is generally greater. Americans pay more, but they also get more, as evinced by the far greater number of MRI machines per capita, as well as significantly higher cancer survival rates.

The PBS article tries to argue, to the contrary, that U.S. medical care is no better.

[M]any OECD countries use strong regulation to set prices that hospitals can charge for different services, and some of them even set budgets for how much hospitals can spend. The quality of care delivered in hospitals in these countries are comparable to that in the U.S., and universities are still able to attract the best students to medicine.

Price controls, of course, lead to shortages, which in turn require the use of waiting lists for treatment. Waiting for treatment creates hidden costs such as lost wages, pain, and suffering that are not included in official healthcare costs.

Furthermore, regarding the claim that care in other OECD countries is “comparable” to the U.S., the PBS article contradicts itself, because several paragraphs further down the article reveals that the quality of care is in fact better in the U.S.

[T]he U.S. leads the world in health care research… The U.S. has also led the way on safer hospitals and health care quality, with programs such as the Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s 100,000 Lives campaign triggering far-reaching cultural shifts in the several thousand hospitals and clinical facilities that signed. Innovative centers such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins that bring laboratory research and clinical practice together have also benefited patients enormously.

Personally, we would very much prefer to seek treatment in the U.S. than in OECD countries like Italy, Chile, or Turkey, and we certainly would be horrified to find ourselves at one of the UK’s filthy and dilapidated public hospitals. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani points out that, over the years, many people asked him for political favors, but “I’ve never had anybody ask me for help to get into a Cuban hospital or a Canadian hospital or an English hospital.”

John Stossel, in the video below, has more to say about efficiency and the role of the profit motive in medical care. But before the video, here is a nice summary of the issue by student Allison Bruns.

While it may at first seem so, the fact that total expenditures for treatment, as a percentage of GDP, are lower in countries that practice socialized medicine like Canada and the UK than they are in the US does not establish that socialist systems are more efficient than the US system. There are many costs in systems of socialized medicine that are essentially hidden from reported expenditures.

Governments impose price controls in order to keep the costs of paying for medical care in socialized medicine systems from taking up so much of their budgets. These costs associated with price controls are concealed, so it appears that medical care will be less expensive to supporters of socialized medicine. The prices are artificially low, as they are set by price controls instead of supply and demand.

The quality of medical is heavily reduced in countries that practice socialized medicine, but this is not reflected in the dollar amount of total expenditures for treatment. The biggest example that shows the decrease in quality is the amount of time that doctors spend with patients. For example, after Canada established socialized medicine in Quebec, the number of telephone consultations went down, office visits went up and the time per visit went down. Medical conditions that were not necessarily serious enough o require an office visit took up more time by the patient and the doctor, thus reducing the time available to those with more serious conditions. Looking at patients who needed to have elective surgery in 2001, 27% of patients in Canada had to wait four months while only 5% of patients in the US had to wait that long. In terms of MRI units, there are 5.5 per million people in Canada and 26.6 per million in the United States. The quality of medical is severely reduced in socialized s ystems, and this the total expenditures for treatment fails to show this additional cost.

There are also quantitative consequences not reflected in the cost of medical care in socialist systems. In 2004, the average waiting time in Canada from receiving an appointment with a specialist to actual treatment was 15 weeks for ophthalmology and 24 weeks for orthopedic surgery. If an American who receives a surgery in three weeks after diagnosis pays $2,000 more than a Canadian to receive the same surgery, the overall cost to the American will be less. The Canadian would lose an extra 12 weeks of pay from waiting for the surgery which would add up to more than $2000 (using $167 per week as the average earnings per week in Canada of lost pay). The expenditures of medical care that are used by supporters of socialized medicine do not include these hidden costs. These unaccounted costs of waiting long times for treatment, like lost pay, pain, debilitation and death, are forgone in coming up with the total expenditures, so it cannot be said that socialist systems are more effective than the US medical system.


New Chess Champion

Congratulations to 22 year old Norwegian Magnus Carlson for winning the world chess title.  He is the highest rated player in history and joins Knute Rockne and Edvard Munch on the short list of Norway’s most famous people.

Kennedy’s legacy

We usually just ignore the stories on the Front Porch of, and scroll down the page to get to the place where we can access our email. But today’s story made us throw up a little bit in our mouths.

Fifty years later, Kennedy’s legacy lives on.

Today, Friday, Nov. 22, flowers will sit at the base of the John F. Kennedy statue outside the student union named in his honor in memory of the 50th anniversary of the young president’s assassination.

Which legacy of Kennedy’s would that be?

Would it be his legacy as a feckless and inept president?

Or perhaps would it be his legacy as a creepy, lecherous bastard?

Unions can’t even sell sex

The Lusty Lady in San Francisco was the only unionized strip joint in America. Sadly, the Lusty Lady went belly-up and closed its doors this past September. In The Atlantic, a former stripper reminisces about her experiences at the club. Let’s see if we can figure out why the club failed.

On the peep show’s Kearney Street façade, among the enticements for “Live Nudes and Movies” and “Private Booths” curling out in Olde Tyme script, is a telling graphic flourish: Two hands pointing to a banner stating “Free Admission.” Upon close observation, you realize that the fingers pointing to the banner are middle fingers. That, to me, is the Lusty Lady encapsulated: Come one! Come all! F. you!…

The Lusty had many distinguishing characteristics—a cocky feminist underpinning that couldn’t be found in any other strip club or peep show in the country…

Customers weren’t allowed to dictate the show in any way, but that didn’t stop of some them from pantomiming stage direction through the glass. A “whoop de doo” finger spiraling in the air meant “turn around.” Fingers together and flapping out like fish fins meant “spread ‘em.” Poor lambs, to each motioned command, the answer was the same: No.

If this seems an insignificant detail, it is anything but. That the terms of interaction were non-negotiable underscored for many dancers a valuable aspect of sexual self-awareness: This is mine. In private or shown for hire, clothed or bare, it’s mine. After a few weeks at the Lusty, when I walked down the street, I felt less threatened by men talking shit to me. My posture changed. If it wasn’t liberating, it was certainly uplifting.

Oh, it was liberating alright. It liberated the dancers from their jobs.

To many of us, dancers, patrons, and support staff alike, the closing of the Lusty Lady means not just the demise of a singular San Francisco institution, but another nail in the coffin of the Bay Area’s Bohemian class—a triumph of capitalism over native culture.

Indeed, a triumph of capitalism it was. But she says that like it’s a bad thing. Look, telling your customers, basically, “F. you” and not giving them what they want is not a viable business model. And that is in fact the beauty of the capitalist system: the customer is free to take his money elsewhere. Likewise, what protects the workers, in this case the dancers, is competition for their valuable skills; they too are free to go elsewhere.

The video embedded below chronicles the story of the Lusty Lady from a pro-union perspective. The narration is standard pro-union tripe, but the images are terrific. Before listening to the pro-union spiel, however, it’s worth investigating how well strippers make out when they don’t have a union to ‘protect’ them. Apparently, if they work a full schedule for a full year, their income can reach six figures.

Menagerii, on an average night, says she can take home between $500 to $1,500. On a great night? She said $3,345, but this was after a double shift.

A monthly estimate of her salary could not be ascertained as she said she works on an extremely flexible schedule which included university studies and months spent travelling. However, she did say she can bring home as much as $120,000 per year, that is before taxes. Yes, she said she pays taxes…

“I get asked all the time, ‘How much money do strippers make?’ Well, it varies from a good night to a bad night, but suppose a stripper only averages $200 per shift and she works four times a week. That is $800 per week or $40,000 per year. If she works five times a week that is $1,000 per week or $50,000 per year. When I first posted this article in the fall of 2007, most of the strippers I knew were averaging $500 per shift, working four shifts a week, which translated to a six figure business,” she says.

Not exactly Marx’s “immiseration of the workers.”


High Income Zip Codes and the NBA

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has an interesting recent piece in the New York Times on the socio-economic background of NBA players.  He explains that:

I recently calculated the probability of reaching the N.B.A., by race, in every county in the United States. I got data on births from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; data on basketball players from; and per capita income from the census. The results? Growing up in a wealthier neighborhood is a major, positive predictor of reaching the N.B.A. for both black and white men.

I did an exhaustive search for information on the parents of the 100 top-scoring black players born in the 1980s, relying on news stories, social networks and public records. Putting all the information together, my best guess is that black N.B.A. players are about 30 percent less likely than the average black male to be born to an unmarried mother and a teenage mother.

His is obviously not a peer-reviewed academic study, but the results are quite intriguing.

Obamacare’s hackonomists

With Obamacare starting to look like the worst domestic policy failure since Prohibition, it is worth remembering that some of the most prominent economists in America told us it was going to work great. Jonathan Gruber of MIT pocketed hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in exchange for reports that extolled the virtues of Obamacare. As Tony points out in a comment below, Gruber was interviewed recently on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show and was asked about the soaring premiums in the non-group market.

Those minority of Americans who are buying their insurance in a broken market today, we’re going to fix that market. That means some of you, a minority of you, are going to have to change your plans and pay more. And that is the price of reform.

Was it Lenin who said that, to make an omelette, you’ve got to break some eggs? In any event, back in 2009, when Obamacare was being debated, Jonathan Gruber wasn’t saying that people would pay more. On the contrary, he issued a risible report claiming that Obamacare would reduce non-group premiums. “[F]or those facing purchase in the non-group market, the House bill will deliver savings ranging from $200 for singles to $500 for families in today’s dollars–even without subsidies.” Instead, people in the non-group market, especially those who do not qualify for subsidies, have seen their premiums skyrocket.

Congressional Democrats and the Administration used Gruber’s report to advance their agenda, without revealing that he was working for them. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, the Statist Establishment’s favorite economist, called Gruber’s hacktastic report “good news for reformers.” As reported in our post below, as recently as last July, Krugman predicted that Obamacare was “going to work” and that it would be “extremely popular.”

But we cannot wrap up our economics Hall of Shame lest we overlook the corpulent delicti of Christina Romer, the Class of 1957 Garff B. Wilson Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Christina Romer: If you like your plan, you can…lemme check the specifics.

As Byron York points out, back in 2009 as the Obamacare debate was raging, Romer was serving as chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors. In that capacity, she testified before the House Labor and Education committee, where she was questioned by Rep. Tom Price, who happens to be a physician. Rep. Price tried to get Romer, without success, to cite a basis for President Obama’s promise that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period.”

REP. PRICE: You also mentioned, as other folks have, that the president’s goal — and it’s reiterated over and over and over — that if you like your current plan or if you like your current doctor, you can keep them. Do you know where that is in the bill?

MS. ROMER: Absolutely. And things like the employer mandate is part of making sure that large employers that today — the vast majority of them do provide health insurance. One of the things that’s —

REP. PRICE: I’m asking about if an individual likes their current plan and maybe they don’t get it through their employer and maybe in fact their plan doesn’t comply with every parameter of the current draft bill, how are they going to be able to keep that?

MS. ROMER: So the president is fundamentally talking about maintaining what’s good about the system that we have. And —

REP. PRICE: That’s not my question.

MS. ROMER: One of the things that he has been saying is, for example, you may like your plan and one of the things we may do is slow the growth rate of the cost of your plan, right? So that’s something that is not only —

REP. PRICE: The question is whether or not patients are going to be able to keep their plan if they like it. What if, for example, there’s an employer out there — and you’ve said that if the employers that already provide health insurance, health coverage for their employees, that they’ll be just fine, right? What if the policy that those employees and that employer like and provide for their employees doesn’t comply with the specifics of the bill? Will they be able to keep that one?

MS. ROMER: So certainly my understanding — and I won’t pretend to be an expert in the bill — but certainly I think what’s being planned is, for example, for plans in the exchange to have a minimum level of benefits.

REP. PRICE: So if I were to tell you that in the bill it says that if a plan doesn’t comply with the specifics that are outlined in the bill that that employer’s going to have to move to the — to a different plan within five years — would you — would that be unusual, or would that seem outrageous to you?

MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing is, what kind of changes are we talking about? The president was saying he wanted the American people to know that fundamentally if you like what you have it will still be there.

REP. PRICE: What if you like what you have, Dr. Romer, though, and it doesn’t fit with the definition in the bill? My reading of the bill is that you can’t keep that.

MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing — the bill is talking about setting a minimum standard of what can count —

REP. PRICE: So it’s possible that you may like what you have, but you may not be able to keep it? Right?

MS. ROMER: We’d have — I’d have to look at the specifics.

No word on what Professor Romer found after she got a chance to “look at the specifics.”

It isn’t worth squat

We don’t know. Maybe they are doing it for fun?  Here is the story:

MOSCOW—With just three months to go before the Winter Games begin in Sochi, Russia is pulling out all the stops to whip up the Olympic spirit.

Moscow city officials are now offering free rides on the subway to any passenger who does 30 squats before crossing the ticket barrier to enter the metro in an effort to promote physical fitness and sports, according to Russian state media reports.

Each squat will be counted by a special machine marked with the Olympic logo that will be placed next to electronic ticket vending machines.

“We wanted to show that the Olympic Games is not just an international competition that people watch on TV, but that it is also about getting everyone involved in a sporting lifestyle,” Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, was quoted by state-run news wire RIA-Novosti as saying.

The idea is that as one ride on the metro costs 30 rubles, (92 cents), so each squat will be worth one ruble.

Very few people are likely to bother since 3 cents a squat inplies a really low opportunity cost of time.

The god that fails, fails again

Tam from Indianapolis, using some colorful language, points out on her blog that the Obamacare debacle comes as a shock only to those deluded about the true nature of government.

As Obamacare continues its spectacular public impersonation of the LZ Hindenburg, dropping flaming wreckage across the politico-economic landscape, I am still just utterly gobsmacked at the dazed bafflement on the face of the true believers in government.

“How could this be going so spectacularly wrong?” goes the hand-wringing lament.

How could it not? Seriously! You think a bunch of people can sit down and… Lux Fiat! …re-write the rules for how 15% of the economy works in one fell swoop, in what amounts to a giant bong-fueled bull session, and have nothing go wrong? You might as well try to change the spark plugs on your car while the engine’s running.

Then again, these are people who think that the efficiency of internal combustion engines or the amount of water it takes to carry off a turd are governed by legislative magic and not the laws of physics.

The naive credulity these people have towards the power of government, their blind faith that they can tamper with the machinery without it hurting anybody, differs in kind nor quality not one lick from the most snake-handlin’ Pentecostal’s faith that Jesus will keep the serpent from biting.

Like Tam, we also don’t find Obamacare’s craptacular launch particularly surprising; in fact, it fits with our general view of how government ‘works.’ See this website’s URL? We told you so.

Now let’s see what Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman predicted about Obamacare as recently as July 17.

[T]his thing [Obamacare] is going to work, it’s going to be extremely popular, and it’s going to wreak havoc with conservative ideology.

You wouldn’t think that Tam from Indianapolis would have a better sense of how the world works than does a Princeton professor with a Nobel Prize in economics. But there it is.

Of course, Tam’s advantage is that her thinking is not burdened by devotion to the state-worshiping false religion known as progressivism. Progressives ooze with disdain for Evangelical Christians, consider them the wrong sort of people, and mock them mercilessly. But Progressives themselves are the ones who embrace the most absurd, indefensible, and destructive of all faiths–the faith in Big Government.