While reading a review of the book Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History I came across this interesting tit bit (British spelling).

Then there’s the year 1620, when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth. Instead of seeing this as the first great turning point in the nation’s colonial history, the date “when America began,” Bunker argues that we might consider 1628 as an alternative. That was the year that colonial leaders sailed up the Kennebec River in southern Maine to establish a half-forgotten trading post at a place called Cushnoc, staking their claim as New England’s primary dealers in beaver pelts. Only by investing in that highly desirable commodity did the settlers finally prove themselves to be more that mere “dabblers, clinging to their footholds along the coast.” Beaver skins — the single way “the Pilgrims could find the money to pay their debts and finance new supplies from home” — transformed a tenuous, fragile community into something permanent.

Funny thing is that my first mate did a lot of trapping when she was growing up. We were talking about it the other day and #1 daughter was not amused. And #1 daughter is also not amused with the first mate’s proficiency in firearms. I’m hoping that once she gets more real wold experience her attitude will change.
Popular history is that the Pilgrims went hungry due to bad luck.

The official story has the pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, coming to America and establishing the Plymouth colony in the winter of 1620-21. This first winter is hard, and half the colonists die. But the survivors are hard working and tenacious, and they learn new farming techniques from the Indians. The harvest of 1621 is bountiful. The Pilgrims hold a celebration, and give thanks to God. They are grateful for the wonderful new abundant land He has given them.
The official story then has the Pilgrims living more or less happily ever after, each year repeating the first Thanksgiving. Other early colonies also have hard times at first, but they soon prosper and adopt the annual tradition of giving thanks for this prosperous new land called America.
The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hardworking or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.
In his ‘History of Plymouth Plantation 1620 – 1647,‘ the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years, because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.

So a society based on communal profits and theft does not work well. Where is the USSR when you need them?

But in subsequent years something changes. The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, “instead of famine now God gave them plenty,” Bradford wrote, “and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.” Thereafter, he wrote, “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.” In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.

So what did work?

… in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of famines.
Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all with the same terrible results. At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first twelve months in America. Most of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609-10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from five-hundred to sixty.
Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a free market, and the results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614, Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was “plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure.” He said that when the socialist system had prevailed, “we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”

So how socialist does a country have to become before it stops working? I don’t want to find out.
Cross Posted at Power and Control