America’s Experiment in Socialism
With the current poll data showing that half of Millennials would prefer to live under socialism over capitalism, I thought this would be an interesting historical event to share: America has been there, done that. System failed miserably.
Back three hundred years or so ago, settlers arrived from Europe to establish new towns and opportunities. The problem was, these people were the merchant class, since they were the ones who had the money for passage. They ran shops, not farms. They had no clue how to build or fix things so didn’t see the need to bring tools or equipment needed to carve out a new society. They thought manual labor was beneath them.
So, after 6 months at sea, those who survived the journey arrived on new soil, traveled inland about 40 miles and established a colony on the James River, called Jamestown. They came to establish trade exports and political influence for the investors back home, expanding the reach of the British Empire. By the first winter several months later, they were looking at extinction, like the 18 previous attempts before Jamestown.
The problem? Socialism. The new colonists agreed to pool all their resources for the good of the settlement and share equally. Everyone was assigned a lot of 3 acres to settle on, build their own home, grow their food, care for their livestock, etc. and all the goods produced were to be shared with the other inhabitants. Socialism, pure and simple.
Well, as human nature would have it, it didn’t take long for some people to decide they really didn’t have to work very hard – or at all – and they would still get the same portion as everyone else. Very quickly, the people doing the work and contributing their bounty noticed they were among the dwindling few working hard to support the system, so one by one, everyone quit working. Not long after, no one was planting crops, their dwellings were falling apart and it is reported that the prime occupation of men at that time was bowling in the streets. (I’m sure you can see the parallels today where more and more people are counting on working Americans to provide for their every need and most of their wants.)
A governor of one of the colonies, William Bradford, reported that they went hungry for years, because the members refused to work. It was easier to steal food at night -or in broad daylight if they could – than expending the toil and effort to grow it themselves. Hence, the “Starving Time” descended on the colonies, and many settlers died.
At Jamestown, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first year. Most of the work was being done by 20% of the men, and the rest were parasites off that labor. As a result, in the winter of 1609-10, the population fell from 500 to 60. (http://mises.org/story/336).
What changed to make the colonies flourish and America become the shining beacon of freedom it is today? Capitalism rode in on a white horse at the pinnacle of disaster for the colonists.
William Bradford came up with a solution. He abolished socialism. The land assigned to families became their own, to grow whatever they wanted. They could take what they needed for their own use and SELL the remainder for their own profit. Once people had a stake in the effort, everyone became very industrious because the more industrious one was, the more profit there was to keep. People got excited about the exploration of how to better plant crops for maximum yield, how to increase surpluses for their own profit. It was a whole new ballgame never before seen in the world.
Once private property rights were established, the colonies thrived as no other nation before them. New Englanders became successful trappers, farmers, fishermen, etc. By 1775, the American economy was ten times larger than it had been in 1690 and a hundred times larger than it was in 1630. (http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo86.html).
The lesson here? Socialism doesn’t work, has never worked, never will work. Every attempt in the history of the world to implement it has failed. Why?
People need to see that they have a stake in the end result. They want the freedom and opportunity to succeed by their own efforts – it’s a basic part of human DNA, and when people have an open road before them, to succeed at whatever they want based on their own efforts, they thrive. What saved the colonies? Private property rights and that open road.
References: http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo86.html, www.aproundtable.org/tps2.cfm?ID=1089&issuecode=history, The Making of America by W. Cleon Skousen, http://livin4jesus.ordpress.com/2008/11/01/spreading-the-wealth-other-forms-of-socialism, http://mises.org/story/336