Monday, May 05, 2008

Lies from My History Teacher: Thanksgiving

As promised, the series continues....

Thanksgiving, our celebration of the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims who were saved from starvation after bad weather created a food shortage that brought them to the brink of starvation by none other than the American Indians. The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to farm the land properly, and low-and-behold they had enough food the next winter for a feast. A great story in coming together and what the public can accomplish when we all just work together and get along. Except that the underlying food crisis story is a phony one.

Benjamin Powell debunked this one nearly four years ago. He reveals that when the Pilgrims arrived to the New World, they instituted a all-property is public property system that shared the benefits of an individual's days labor with the public. Public officials would ration the food according to need as they saw fit. The result: A food shortage as everyone failed to kick-in their full share. Facing possible starvation, they tried assigning private property rights and letting families keep what they grew. The outcome? They never faced food shortages again.

The real lesson of Thanksgiving? Incentives matter, and bellies are kept full when property rights are assigned to the individuals, not the proverbial "people."

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