In grade school, we’re taught that the story of the First Thanksgiving illustrates the importance of teamwork and charity. That’s true, so far as it goes. But on this Thanksgiving Day, it’s worth pondering the other moral of the holiday of thanks: capitalism works.
In March of 1621, an American Indian named Samoset — who had learned English by interacting with other colonists — reportedly walked into the settlement and proclaimed, “Welcome, Englishmen!” Shortly thereafter, the settlers established a formal peace treaty with a delegation from the Wampanoag tribe. Delegates included Squanto, who had learned English as a slave in Europe — and who, as spring came to New England, showed the Pilgrims how to catch eel, grow corn, and otherwise procure food.
But what is often left out of the popular account is that one reason the Pilgrims were in such peril during these first few seasons was that they were trying communal farming: During the first two and a half years, there was neither private property nor division of labor at the Plymouth Colony. No one was permitted to own any particular plot of land. Food was grown collectively and distributed equally.