Henry Hazlitt | November 1, 2009
Is Socialism the Wave of the Future?
Governor Bradford's history of the Plymouth Bay Colony is a story that deserves to be far better known, particularly in an age that has acquired a mania for socialism and Communism, regards them as peculiarly "progressive" and entirely new, and is sure that they represent "the wave of the future."
Most of us have forgotten that when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of Massachusetts they established a Communist system. Out of their common product and storehouse they set up a system of rationing, though it came to "but a quarter of a pound of bread a day to each person." Even when harvest came, "it arose to but a little." A vicious circle seemed to set in. The people complained that they were too weak from want of food to tend the crops as they should. Deeply religious though they were, they took to stealing from each other.
"So as it well appeared," writes Governor Bradford, "that famine must still insue the next year aliso, if not some way prevented." So the colonists, he continues, "begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length [in 1623] after much debate of things, the Gov. (with the advise of the cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves ... And so assigned to every family a parcell of land ...
"This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other waise would have bene by any means the Gov. or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente.
"The women now wente willingly into the feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weakness, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.
"The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that concede of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times;-that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte.
"For the yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails and cloaths, than he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice ...
"And for men's wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dressing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemed it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it ...
"By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plentie, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoysing of the harts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their particular [private] planting was well seene, for all had, one way and other, pretty well to bring the year aboute, and some of the abler sorte and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any generali wante or famine hath not been amongest them since to this day."
And from Captain John Smith's account, we learn of similar experiences in Virginia:
"When our people were fed out of the common store, and laboured jointly together, glad was he could slip from his labour, or slumber over his taske he cared not how, nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true paines in a weeke, as now for themselves they will doe in a day: neither cared they for the increase, presuming that howsoever the harvest prospered, the generali store must maintaine them, so that wee reaped not so much Corne from the labours of thirtie, as now three or foure doe provide for themselves."
The moral is obvious. The wave of the future was a failure.
Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993) was a journalist, literary critic, economist, and philosopher. His book Economics in One Lesson is perhaps the most popular economics text ever written.