Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Mother Of Contention And Discord

"The settlers now began to consider corn more precious than silver."

Governor William Bradford (1590 - 1657)

And why wouldn't they?  Something is only money insofar as it is accepted.  What would silver have bought the colonists of the Mayflower Ship?

For various reasons, including bad planning, the Mayflower colonists (they weren't called "Pilgrims" until centuries later) landed at the 42nd parallel, the Cape Cod area, at the start of winter, November 1620.  As a part of the Virginia Company of London they were to land between 38 and 41 degrees latitude, but stopped at the 42nd instead.  Some say they were running low on drink, which was a non-alcoholic beer.

They called their settlement the Plymouth Plantation.  Due to cold, disease and starvation only 50 of the original 102 survived the first winter.  It was a disaster.

To begin, they implemented a system of communal labor for the colony.  It was a system demanded of them by their investors in England, and called "the common course and condition," including a communal stewardship of land. 

That was thought to be the most fair system to distribute what had been produced.  Each member of the colony was given a plot of land to tend and his production was to be given to the common storehouse.  It was then redistributed as needed.  What each received was a set amount of grain, and no matter how much he had produced.

By the spring of 1623, and no larger than 150 people at that time, the colony was still struggling to provide enough food for itself and had been returning nothing to the investors in England. What were they to return to investors?  A tax of 50% of all produced!

The result of the common course and condition suffered from an immediate affliction - some were unwilling to work, knowing that they would receive a set amount of grain no matter what they had given.  This created overall discontent among those who actually worked, a loss of respect for some and was considered unjust.  And this among, as Bradford called them, "godly and sober men."

Newcomers would arrive and find no bread, little food and disarray.  Wrote Bradford in his journal, "So they 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."

They had a colonial confab and decided to go with, wait for it -  


Bradford again records, "At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (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; in all other things to go in the general way as before.  And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number."

This "brought a very good success," and Bradford records that more land was privatized.

Not only did the families each police themselves as to production and produce, they began trading with each other!

This foundation of economic freedom produced results that were staggering.  FREE ENTERPRISE!  Within two years the trade between the families had extended to the nearby, and friendly, Wampanoag tribe, which created access to other types of goods!  And then consider the Governor's comment above - they had no need of silver as money or desire.  They had precious corn!  And other things!


Private property, individual economic incentive, improved their standard of living, and spurred economic growth - AND PROSPERITY!

So, brothers and sisters of the congregation, what can we learn from free enterprise experiment of the Plymouth Plantation?

When William Bradford died, one of the many books in his estate was one written by Jean Bodin, called Six Books of A Commonweale.   In it, Bodin criticizes Plato's Republic, which, of course, preaches utopianism.  Plato's idea was to abolish private property, and reduce most people to slavery overseen by high-minded, Wizards of Wonderfully Smart guardians, who would be the decision makers for the republics' slaves.  To rebut that, Bodin argued that communal property was "the mother of contention and discord," and any society based on it would wither and die because "nothing can be public where nothing is private."

Later, when the Plymouth Colony was absorbed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, nobody heard again of the "common course and condition."

And necessarily so.  And they all lived happily ever after.

Until communal redistribution reared its ugly head again.

The End.

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