Give Thanks for PROPERTY RIGHTS

by John Stossel

posted in Reason

When we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I will give thanks for property rights.

Property rights allow each individual or family to do what we want with our small piece of the world without having to answer to the whole community.

On Thanksgiving, we’ll probably be told to think of America as one big family—and for some people, government is the head of that family. That idea warms the hearts of America’s new “democratic socialists.”

But thinking like that nearly destroyed this nation before it began.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth didn’t share a feast with Indians after arriving in 1620 because America was so filled with bounty.

Instead, the Pilgrims nearly starved to death. They’d tried to farm collectively—the entire community owning all the land and sharing everything, like socialists. Gov. William Bradford wrote, “By the spring, our food stores were used up and people grew weak and thin. Some swelled with hunger.”

Then, writes Bradford, “After much debate (I) assigned each family a parcel of land… (T)his had very good success, because it made every hand industrious.”

Crop production increased because workers reaped direct benefits of their own effort. They stopped hoping someone else would do the hard work.

It’s not that the Pilgrims were lazy or weak. They’d risked their lives to cross an ocean to try to build a community from scratch. But in tiny, often imperceptible ways, we each do a less efficient job, and pay less attention to the task at hand, if we think the whole community is responsible for that task.

The Pilgrims were the same people after their switch from collective to individual farming—from socialism to capitalism, as it were—but after the switch, they thrived. That led to the first Thanksgiving in 1623.

The bounty for which we give thanks this week was made possible by that early course correction to private property.

I worry that, 400 years later, we’ve turned into ingrates. Instead of celebrating individual producers, Americans give thanks to a gigantic government for handouts.

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