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Posts Tagged ‘Thanksgiving’

The biggest Thanksgiving tradition in America is a turkey dinner.

Some people also have a secondary tradition of watching football. But libertarians can be a bit quirky, so my secondary tradition has been to periodically share (in 2010, in 2013, and in 2016) a video from Reason about how property rights saved the Pilgrims.

But I don’t like being overly repetitive, so I’m thankful that Reason has a new Thanksgiving video. Narrated by John Stossel, it tells the story of the first Thanksgiving, augmented by a modern example of why communal property creates bad incentives.

And here’s another video with a Thanksgiving theme.

It’s from Prager University and it uses the colonial experience to teach about the failures of mercantilism and collectivism.

It’s no exaggeration to say that capitalism was a life-saver for the Pilgrims.

And it’s a money-saver for us in the modern era, as Mark Perry points out.

The fact that a family in America can celebrate Thanksgiving with a classic turkey feast for less than $50 and at a “time cost” of only 2.21 hours of work at the average hourly wage for one person means that we really have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of cheap, affordable food. The average worker would earn enough money before their lunch break on just one day to be able to afford the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Compared to 1986, the inflation-adjusted cost of a turkey dinner today is more than 23% cheaper, and 31% cheaper measured in the “time cost” for the average worker. Relative to our income and relative to the cost of food in the past, food in America is more affordable today than almost any time in history.

Remember, also, that these numbers would look even better for consumers if it wasn’t for the heavy burden of government that gets built into the cost of everything.

Let’s close with some libertarian-themed Thanksgiving humor.

Though anti-libertarian-themed would be a better way of describing this cartoon.

Needless to say, libertarians don’t have any objection to voluntary sharing and private redistribution, so the cartoon is wrong.

But it’s nonetheless amusing, so I’ll add it to my collection.

Just like last year’s cartoon about what happens when there’s a libertarian at a family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

P.S. Here are some clever Thanksgiving-themed Obamacare cartoons from 2013. And some Thanksgiving-themed fiscal cartoons from 2012.

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What’s the fundamental problem with redistributionist economic policy?

As a libertarian, I would answer with a philosophical argument against coercion. I think it is immoral for vote-seeking politicians, using the threat of imprisonment, to rob Peter to subsidize Paul.

But as an economist, the problem is incentives. Simply stated, redistribution from Peter to Paul undermines the incentive of either to produce. And the greater the level of plunder, as we see from extreme examples such as Venezuela and North Korea, the greater the damage.

This is a lesson that we should have learned from the earliest days of American history.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Richard Ebeling explains a very important lesson about incentives and human behavior. He begins by pointing out how the Pilgrims initially created a collectivist economic system.

The English Puritans…wanted to turn their backs on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World. …they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. …all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

But this system – what a shock – didn’t work.

What resulted is recorded in the journal of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. …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.

Commenting about the downside of a system based on communal sharing, Richard shares a simple lesson in economics.

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.

And he also shows the economic lesson to be learned when the Pilgrims abandoned collectivism for private property.

Private ownership meant that there was now a close link between work and reward. Industry became the order of the day as the men and women in each family went to the fields on their separate private farms. When the harvest time came, not only did many families produce enough for their own needs, but they had surpluses that they could freely exchange with their neighbors for mutual benefit and improvement. …Hard experience had taught the Plymouth colonists the fallacy and error in the ideas of that since the time of the ancient Greeks had promised paradise through collectivism rather than individualism. …This is the lesson of the First Thanksgiving. …the triumph of capitalism over the failure of collectivism in all its forms.

The adverse consequences of 17th-century collectivism are examined in this video from Reason, which I try to share every Thanksgiving.

By the way, the Pilgrims weren’t the only early Americans to make the mistake of collectivist economics.

An article from the Mises Institute discusses a similar failed experiment in Jamestown.

The Jamestown colony in Virginia had similar experiences as they started under the same rules:

  1.  They were to own nothing.
  2.  They were to receive only as much food and clothing as they needed.
  3.  Everything that the men secured from trade or produced from the land had to go into the common storehouse.

Of the 104 men that started the Jamestown colony in 1607 only 38 survived the first year and even those had to be marched to the fields “to the beat of a drum” simply to grow food to keep them alive in the next year.

Fortunately, the Jamestown settlers learned that socialism doesn’t work.

And when a system based on private property was created, the results were spectacular.

Captain John Smith writes after the common store concept was abandoned:

When our people were fed out of the common store, and labored jointly together, glad was he could slip from his labor, or slumber over his task he cared not how, nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true pains in a week, as now for themselves they will do in a day. … We reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty, as now three or four do provide for themselves.

Gee, people produce much more when they keep the fruits of their labor. What a radical concept!

On a more serious note, the lessons from Plymouth and Jamestown are the same lessons from France and Cuba.

The more government there is in a nation (imagine a spectrum of statism), the worse its economy will perform.

Let’s close with a Thanksgiving-themed addition to our collection of libertarian humor. This guy obviously prefers the moral argument against statism.

Not that I would recommend going overboard with libertarian intensity at a family gathering. Then you come across like the libertarian chicken, or the “missionary” from the 24-types-of-libertarians collage.

Just have friends and family sign up for International Liberty!

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There’s an odd debate in the blogosphere. As happens every Thanksgiving, libertarians and conservatives take joy in pointing out that there was mass starvation and suffering during the early years of the Plymouth Colony because of a socialist economic model. Here’s what John Stossel recently wrote.

Long before the failure of modern socialism, the earliest European settlers gave us a dramatic demonstration of the fatal flaws of collectivism. Unfortunately, few Americans today know it. The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share the work and produce equally. That’s why they nearly all starved. When people can get the same return with less effort, most people make less effort. Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. This went on for two years. “So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented,” wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, “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. At length after much debate of things, (I) (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. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.” In other words, the people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic. “This had very good success,” Bradford wrote, “for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. 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.”

My colleague Dan Griswold has a blog post making the same point. And here’s a new video from the prolific folks at Reason TV.

This story must bother the statists. For the first time I can remember, they tried to push back this year. A blogger called Liberal Curmudgeon attempted to puncture the supposed myth, blaming the Colony’s woes on lazy Englishmen.

The real problem, though, was that the men recruited for Jamestown and Plymouth were expecting quick and easy riches without having to work at all.

That’s an interesting theory, and Andrew Sullivan swallows it, hook, line, and sinker (apparently any criticism of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck must be true).

But this argument suffers from a couple of flaws. Don Boudreaux deals with one of the problems in his post, but I have a much simpler criticism for Andrew Sullivan, the Liberal Curmudgeon, et al.

If the Plymouth Colony initially was failing because of the wrong type of people, why did those wrong people suddenly succeed once communalism was replaced with private property?

Maybe statists have a good answer to this question, but I won’t be holding my breath.

So the real lesson of Thanksgiving (at least from an economics perspective), is that incentives matter. The Pilgrims figured this out and changed course. Nearly four hundred years later, the question for today is whether Obama is similarly capable of learning from his mistakes.

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Our friends at Americans for Tax Reform have calculated that taxes account for nearly 41 percent of the cost of a family’s Thanksviging dinner:

As you finalize your Thanksgiving plans, be sure to reserve a seat at your table for an extra guest: Uncle Sam. Have you ever asked yourself how much of the cost of your Thanksgiving feast is owed to the fact that the government takes a big bite at it in hidden taxes? The Americans for Tax Reform Foundation and the Center for Fiscal Accountability have calculated just how big that government “tax bite” for Thanksgiving is, and it clocks in at a whopping 40.91 percent. …And that is only if your family does not have to drive or fly to get to the Thanksgiving party, or stay at a hotel for the duration of the festivities, as domestic airfare, gasoline, and hotel stays have their own “tax bites” which are even higher than the bite the government takes out of your Thanksgiving meal, and which we calculated last year.

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Could it be, as this National Review post indicates, that the forces of political correctness are now going after Thanksgiving?!? But for what reason? I understand the motive of the anti-religion (as opposed to non-religion) crowd that seeks to marginalize Christmas, but Thanksgiving seems to be a very odd target. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Thanksgiving symbolizes the American Dream, and that’s not a very PC concept.

But I’m not a PC kind of guy, so I hope everyone enjoys their turkey and is thankful for the things that matter (as one of my softball buddies said, he is thankful for cloture, the 2nd Amendment, and Heidi Klum).

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