Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farewell to the Pilgrims -- Bradford's view on Economics

I'm still not done with Plymouth Plantation, but I think it time to move on in my blogging activity -- but one final passage that caught my attention. When the Pilgrims arrived, they held all their land in common -- thus the fields were common fields that everyone took their turn working in and then the crops were doled out accordingly.

This process wasn't producing the results that they needed to survive, so Bradford came up with a solution. He assigned each household a plot of land on which they would grow their own crops.

“It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression....The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, -- that the taking away of private property, nad the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went), was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, without any recompence. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc. than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice.” (115-116)

Now bear in mind that they still held the fishing boats in common and doled out the catch accordingly. They still divided up the provisions sent from England (rare that they were) as though they were held in common. Even so, we see the early inklings of the value of privatization.

I also think it extraordinarily cool that we have these people struggling to make a go of it here in the wilderness....and Bradford is engaging with the political thought of Plato! Who talks about Plato in the wilderness??? All the Puritan greats were rooted in a classical humanistic education -- and they brought that education to bear in their work. Very very cool stuff.

Soli Deo gloria