Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: An Economics Lesson

Thanksgiving: An Economics Lesson
by Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson,, November 24th, 2010

Every fall in my Econ 101 course, during the last class period before we part for Thanksgiving, I share a lesson from early American history. It is particularly timely, because it deals with those we credit with the first American Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony.

Upon arriving in New England, the Pilgrims shared “their meat, drink, apparel and all provisions” in common. As inevitably happens under collective ownership, the incentive to work disappeared. The grim result was food shortages, hunger, starvation; indeed, half of those who sailed on the Mayflower perished.

With the colony’s survival in question, the survivors reintroduced the principle of private property. Each family was assigned a plot of land. They adopted the apostle Paul’s dictum, “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). Thereafter, food production soared and the Pilgrims prospered.

The political-economic lesson here is obvious, and I won’t belabor it. Instead, let’s consider another important lesson imparted by this historical episode: We humans need to be challenged.

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