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The Lessons of Starvation Economics

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The U.S. economy was worse off before now, worse even than in the Great Depression. In 1620, when our Pilgrim Forefathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, per capita GDP was nearly zero. Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford’s journal of those early years, records the economic scarcity prevailing at the time:

“…they had now no friends to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure…”

They did however find the barest of provisions in the abandoned homes of American Indians:

“They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction [repayment] when they should meet with any of them, as about six months afterwards they did.

“…they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season.”

Actually, just under half the population did die that first harsh winter. Socialist economic policies kept the Pilgrims starving for three years, and as today, kept the unemployment rate needlessly high:

“The experience that was had …may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”

Not wanting to face another winter of starvation, in 1623 they allotted private plots on which families could farm for themselves. This policy shift led to bumper crops:

“This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been…and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

In current economic policy disputes, there is often heard the notion that Americans should accept increased taxes and “shared sacrifice” in time of need, but the experience of our Pilgrim forebears shows that people will literally starve rather than work for the “commonwealth.” Policies that discourage free enterprise actually lessen the common wealth of our society. What’s more, policies that keep unemployment high foster “weakness and inability.” Do we not see in today’s food-stamp economy a rise in brazenness by idle people? It seems like a week doesn’t go by without a flash-mob army, endowed with expensive cell phones, looting a convenience store run by some hapless immigrant.

Our forebears came to America seeking religious freedom, and learned the necessity of economic freedom. Another crucial lesson they taught, and on which we could use a refresher course, is gratitude for everything we receive.

Gil Weinreich


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