Economics/Class Relations

No, Stossel. The Pilgrims Were Starved by a Corporation, Not by Communism.

By Kevin Carson, Center for a Stateless Society

Each year at this time somebody in the right-libertarian world, reenacting an obligatory Thanksgiving ritual, drags out the old chestnut about the Pilgrims at Plymouth almost starving from “communism” until private property rights and capitalism saved them. This year John Stossel (“We Should Be Thankful for Private Property,” Reason, Nov. 27) gets the honors.

In the received version the Puritans, motivated by a misguided idealism, initially set out to restore the primitive Christian communism of the Book of Acts, “holding all things in common.” Stossel characterizes the arrangement as sounding “like something out of Karl Marx.” When the obvious incentive problems entailed in this practice led to starvation, the settlers accommodated themselves to reality and divided up the land and worked it individually. Output skyrocketed, starvation was averted, and everybody was happy.

But that’s not the way things actually happened.

Richard Curl’s history of cooperatives in America, For All the People, fills in some missing details that change the meaning of the story entirely. Curl supplements Bradford’s history with material from J. A. Doyle’s English Colonies. According to Doyle, the agreement between the Pilgrim Separatists and the Merchant Adventurers corporation provided that

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