A Thanksgiving Story: What the Pilgrims Taught Us About Capitalism

I recently read an interesting little story in the L.A. Times,  Giving Thanks, about the real lessons learned from the first Thanksgiving. It is a story you probably missed in school. It is a lesson in capitalism, in self-sufficiency, and in personal freedom.

Here is a short excerpt from the article:

For the Pilgrims, life was a constant battle for survival. Later, Governor William Bradford made a decision. Instead of the colonists sharing their crops equally, he assigned a parcel of land to each family and told them they could keep whatever they produced for themselves.”

“Then what happened?” asked Sam.

“At last the Pilgrims began to prosper. Governor William Bradford wrote in his book ‘Of Plimoth Plantation,’ ‘This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.'”

When crops were shared amongst all the colonists, some figured out that they could work a little less and still enjoy the same fruits. Those who worked hard began to resent those that worked less, and soon began to produce less themselves. However, when each family was responsible for feeding themselves, but were allowed to keep all that they produced, they began to prosper.

The “industrious” hands Bradford referred to are the same hands that built this country into what it is today. However, somewhere along the way we forgot the lessons from this Thanksgiving story.

We have slowly crept back towards a time of dependence on others to take care of us, rather than reliance on our own industriousness. To further stifle the entrepreneurial spirit, our government plans to levy higher taxes on those who are most industrious. And what good will that do?

Those who are most industrious provide jobs, and products, and services for others. To punish them is to ultimately punish ourselves. No, instead we should celebrate their success, and make it as easy as possible for more people to emulate them.

So on this day of Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for our founders, who had the guts to set out on a journey for freedom, and ultimately fight for that freedom. I’m also thankful for the men and women who continue to fight to protect our freedoms today.

Our way of life will likely be tested in the coming months and years, thanks to the economic tailspin we’ve witnessed recently. But penalizing those who are most industrious is not the way to prosperity. Relying on someone else to provide for us is not the path to self-sufficiency. Remember these lessons on Thanksgiving Day, and beyond.


  1. I agree, to an extent. But as an American living in Europe, I would gladly pay more taxes for a public transportation system equal to that found in Germany. And certainly ensuring all of our children are properly educated is a worthy investment of tax funds. After all, isn’t education the best path towards self-sufficiency?

    Of course, it would help if we weren’t also paying for a couple of wars…

  2. I’m an avid fan of your blog, so I feel it would be rude of me bring up any sort of debate on the topic. Certainly capitalism has proven how efficient it is in creating national prosperity (for the exact reasons you’ve pointed out; nicely said!) but it doesn’t help for us to paint it so black and white. I only leave a quote by Warren Buffet to us all to chew on. 🙂

    “The free market’s the best mechanism ever devised to put resources to their most efficient and productive use … the government isn’t particularly good at that. But the market isn’t so good at making sure the wealth that’s produced is being distributed fairly or wisely. Some of the wealth has to be plowed back into education, so that the next generation has a fair chance, and to maintain our infrastructure, and provide some safety net for those who lose out on market economy … [the rich] have this idea that it’s ‘their money’ and they deserve to keep every penny of it. What they don’t factor in is all the public investment that lets us live the way we do. Take me for example. I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless … but I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent, and gave me a good education to develop that talent, and set up the laws and the financial system to let me do what I love doing– and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is help pay for all that.”

  3. The posting is very good. I searched for some blogs where they talk about Thanksgiving and all those storys. I like your story. It is very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  4. thanks for this post. i kept thinking that i should go out like a lot of others tomorrow even though our money is super tight right now. but after reading your post i was reminded once again that i associate fun and happiness with shopping and i would certainly have bought a lot of useless crap. i always forget about the sultriness of marketing…it often gets me everytime. Its almost like I turn into a brainless droid.

  5. Wow! A couple of words to add to your post:


    Greed leads to over consumption which leads to military action in order to protect those rights to consume.

    And what exactly are the “freedom$” you are thankful for that are really worth lives being lost?

    To all the industrious out there, life is more than producing jobs, products, and the consumption of things.

    Just something to think about…

  6. In addition to what Josh said…

    I think it’s important to remember that everyone (Ok, most people) pay their debt to society in their own way. For the “least industrious,” this often means military service.

    Personally, I’d rather take more taxes out of my high income than find myself in a lower tax bracket, with only the memory of a son who died in combat because he had no other options.

  7. i have to disagree with your premise that “most industrious” always = the wealthy. someone who chooses to be a social worker may work extremely hard for not much money whereas someone who joins the family business at a high salary may be barely producing. just because you make a lot of money doesn’t mean you are industrious.

  8. “Beware the terrible simplifiers.”

    Total dependence and total independence are equally irrational goals for any individual in any society, primitive or modern. Scientific research has shown us that what enabled primitive man to survive and thrive was inter-dependence. It is no less true today. The very fact that you have a daily article on the Internet that people like me respond to is evidence the success of inter-dependence, not a testimony to independence.

    I’m frankly growing a little tired of the “I got mine; who cares about you?” mentality that somehow has been elevated to the point of nobility. I suppose you don’t want a defense system, public parks and schools, affordable health care, social security, or interstate highways either?

    Learning to take care of one’s self well can be a lifelong process. Sometimes, bad things DO happen to good people. I’m all for personal responsibility. But it would be foolhardy of me, or anyone, to suggest that there is nothing I cannot control. That’s irrational, and what is more irrational is pretending that what happens to other people, and what other people do, does not affect me.

    Of course, industriousness and hard work should be valued more highly than lack of industriousness and lack of hard work, but not to the point of, say, infinity. Even our current president has virtually admitted that greed-driven, unchained, unregulated human behavior suggests a response when it affects society as a whole. Therefore, I would conclude that there are limits even to how much hard work and industriousness, and how much reward, are appropriate in today’s global society.

  9. @Josephine: Since you brought it up, no, I do not want social security or a nationalized health care system. If I could opt out I would do so in a heartbeat.

    Yes, I gladly support taxation at the federal level for national defense and infrastructure. However, in my opinion, the other things you mentioned should be handled at the state level.

  10. I also wanted to address one comment I hear alot.

    “I do not want social security …. If I could opt out I would do so in a heartbeat”

    Purely from a FP point of view that’s a very bad decision. What your saying is you want to trade the equivalent to a defined benefit pension plan for a defined contribution one. In other words your moving all the risk from the company to your self. PF 101 is about reducing risk and by doing that your violating, as I mentioned the first rule reducing risk.

    At best you might do a bit better (and if your really that good you won’t care about SS because you’re the next warren buffet) but more than likely your make a few good moves but alot of bad moves. Why do you think seniors OVERWHELMINGLY rejected Bush’s plan to introduce private accounts to SS. It wasn’t because they were a bunch of liberals but that at that age they were risk adverse.

    I’m sure your aware that the DOW is down almost 50%, sure if your 20 who cares, but if you’re 65 it’s a hell of a scary thought.

    Opting out of SS as you say is simply bad financial advice, sad coming from such a good blog.

  11. One final note: Regardless of how you argue the new deal it did accomblish one thing. It rescued many seniors from a life of total poverty. For many seniors SS is the only thing between them and true poverty. Your still poor but at least you can afford to eat.

    And unfortunatly according to many bloggers (and I’ll try and keep it civil) if someone doesn’t save enough money to fund a comfortablle retirement than they deserve to eat dog food for dinner.

  12. No problem, in spite of some disagreements I do like your blog and it does make me think. BTW I read the article and I’d argue that the moral of the story isn’t that taxation isn’t bad but socialism doesn’t work. I was going to mentioned this on my blog but after the war Germany and India were both “poor” countries, Germany embraced capitalism and India embraced socialism. Predicably Germany is very wealthy and India remained very poor. To me that is the moral of the story.

  13. Thought this would be better discussed in a forum post than via the comment field. Question is SS good or bad. hope you don’t mind

    link here

  14. @Rob: I guess my taxation posts are simple–what can I say, I’m a simple guy. I believe in personal responsibility and limited government…period. Sure, I’d love to opt out of social security because it is a horribly managed plan. I’ll gladly transfer the risk to myself, and be responsible for my own family’s financial future. I do recognize it helps people who failed to plan, or suffered a devastating illness or injury. However, it was not meant to completely replace personal retirement planning.

    Look, I am not trying to convert anyone. I am simply sharing my opinion. It’s not just “right wing talking points,” it is my personal philosophy (besides, you won’t find a stronger critic of the Republicans lack of fiscal discipline over the last eight years). I give when I can to charities I personally support, and encourage anyone in position to do so.

  15. I’d love to know who is taking care of me and mine…other than me. I’d say I’m pretty hard working and industrious, though I work in a low paying industry. You seem to equate industrious with wealthiness, which does not compute in my experience. Many of the most well-off people I know inherited that wealth, were born into wealth, or came upon it through luck. Not that being rich isn’t related to industriousness. It’s just not always (or even mainly) related to industriousness.

  16. “So on this day of Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for our founders, who had the guts to set out on a journey for freedom, and ultimately fight for that freedom.”

    This was definetly true for those times. Today I sometimes fear that many (military) actions are justified by using the “freedom” theme.