If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny ~ Steven Wright
Once upon a time in the US we were encouraged to go to school, study hard, get a scholarship, go on to college, get a degree, get a good job, build a solid career, and earn a decent living. I see a shift – now some Americans believe that those who earn a lot are greedy and those who make a good living don’t deserve what they have earned. The big question is – when did the US choose capitalism and why?
In looking for an answer to this question I came up with many good guesses off the top of my head, but I did not look far enough back in the history of our country. It wasn’t until I was recently helping my youngest son complete a history assignment that I came across the answer. It starts at the beginning of our country. August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail with 102 passengers (including 40 Pilgrims led by William Bradford). The first winter was deadly, half the Pilgrims – including Bradford’s own wife – died. I found some text “When spring finally came, Indians taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats.” In the fall after harvest the Pilgrims celebrated and gave thanks to the Indians for saving their lives.
I dug a little deeper and found that while life did improve for the Pilgrims they did not yet prosper, life was very tough. This is important to understand because this is where modern American history lessons often end. I dug deeper and found that the original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member of the community was entitled to one common share. The plan was to distribute everything equally. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it. Bradford wrote – “‘The experience that we had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years…that by taking away property, and bringing community into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourish, but the opposite, 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. For young men that were the most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense . . . that was thought injustice.’ (Translation -Why should I work for other people when I can’t work for myself? What’s the point?)
The Pilgrims found that people could not be expected to do their best work without incentive. So what did Bradford’s community try next? They turned to the capitalistic principle of private property. Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result? ‘This had very good success,’ wrote Bradford, ‘for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.’ In no time, the Pilgrims found they had more food than they could eat themselves…. So they set up trading posts and exchanged goods with the Indians. The profits allowed them to pay off their debts to the merchants in London.
History gives us answers to our earlier questions – the US selected capitalism right from the start because it works the best. Now we just need to get back to it.