Thanks, pri­vate prop­erty

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Fam­i­lies will ar­gue this Thanks­giv­ing. Such ar­gu­ments have a long tra­di­tion.

The Pil­grims had clash­ing ideas about how to or­ga­nize their set­tle­ment in the New World. The res­o­lu­tion of that de­bate made the first Thanks­giv­ing pos­si­ble.

The Pil­grims were re­li­gious, united by faith and a pow­er­ful de­sire to start anew, away from re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion in the Old World. Each mem­ber of the com­mu­nity pro­fessed a de­sire to la­bor to­gether, on be­half of the whole set­tle­ment.

In other words: so­cial­ism.

But when they tried that, the Pil­grims al­most starved.

Their col­lec­tive farm­ing — the whole com­mu­nity de­cid­ing when and how much to plant, when to har­vest, who would do the work — was an in­ef­fi­cient dis­as­ter.

“By the spring,” Pil­grim leader Wil­liam Brad­ford wrote in his diary, “our food stores were used up and peo­ple grew weak and thin.

“Some swelled with hunger... So they be­gan to think how ... they might not still thus lan­guish in mis­ery.”

His an­swer: di­vide the com­mune into parcels and as­sign each Pil­grim fam­ily its own prop­erty. As Brad­ford put it, they “set corn ev­ery man for his own par­tic­u­lar . ... As­signed ev­ery fam­ily a par­cel of land.”

Pri­vate prop­erty pro­tects us from what econ­o­mists call the tragedy of the com­mons. The “com­mons” is a shared re­source.

That means it’s re­ally owned by no one, and no one per­son has much in­cen­tive to pro­tect it or de­velop it.

The Pil­grims’ sim­ple change to pri­vate own­er­ship, wrote Brad­ford, “made all hands very in­dus­tri­ous, so as much more corn was planted than oth­er­wise would have been.” Soon they had so much plenty that they could share food with the na­tives.

The In­di­ans weren’t so­cial­ists, ei­ther. They had prop­erty rules of their own. That helped them grow enough so they had plenty, even dur­ing cold win­ters.

When prop­erty rights are tossed aside, even for the sake of re­li­gious fel­low­ship or in the name of the work­ing class, peo­ple just don’t work as hard.

Why farm all day — or in­vent new ways of farm­ing — when ev­ery­one else will get an equal share?

You may not in­tend to be a slacker, but sud­denly, rea­sons to stay in bed seem more com­pelling than they did when your own liveli­hood and fam­ily were de­pen­dent on your own ef­forts.

Pil­grim teenagers were es­pe­cially lazy. Some claimed they were too sick to work. Some stole the com­mune’s crops, pick­ing corn at night, be­fore it was ready.

But once Brad­ford cre­ated pri­vate lots, the Pil­grims worked hard. They could have sat around ar­gu­ing about who should do how much work, whether English tribes or In­dian ones were cul­tur­ally su­pe­rior, and what God would de­cree if She/ He set rules for farm­ing.

None of that would have yielded the bounty that a sim­ple divi­sion of land into pri­vate lots did.

When peo­ple re­spect prop­erty rights, they also in­ter­act more peace­fully.

At this year’s Thanks­giv­ing din­ner, if peo­ple start ar­gu­ing about how so­ci­ety should be run, try be­ing a peace­maker by sug­gest­ing that ev­ery­one should get to de­cide what to do with their own prop­erty.

If your un­cle wants gov­ern­ment to tax im­ports or thinks po­lice should seize peo­ple’s mar­i­juana, tell him that he doesn’t have to smoke weed or buy Chi­nese prod­ucts, but he should keep his hands off other peo­ple’s prop­erty.

If your niece says ev­ery­one loves so­cial­ism now, re­mind her she has enough trou­ble man­ag­ing her own life without telling the rest of the world what to do.

When fam­i­lies don’t agree, they cer­tainly shouldn’t try to run mil­lions of other peo­ple’s lives.

In Amer­ica today, re­li­gious groups prac­tice dif­fer­ent rites but usu­ally don’t de­mand that gov­ern­ment ban oth­ers’ prac­tices.

Pri­vate schools set cur­ric­ula without nasty pub­lic fights. Busi­nesses stock shelves without politi­cians fight­ing about which prod­ucts they should carry.

All those sys­tems work pretty well. That’s be­cause they are pri­vate.

In most of our lives, pri­vate own­er­ship makes po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments un­nec­es­sary.

I’m thank­ful for that.

John Stos­sel is au­thor of “No They Can’t! Why Gov­ern­ment Fails — But In­di­vid­u­als Suc­ceed.”

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