The Truth about the Mayflower Colonists that Pro-Capitalist Propagandist
Jeff Jacoby Must Hide
June 30, 2019
The Boston Globe's in-house conservative columnist, Jeff Jacoby, had a column a few days ago about how the Democratic Party was having a "Socialist" moment now but that it wouldn't last because socialism was just anti-American and a terrible idea.
By "socialism" Jacoby meant, as he says explicitly, the egalitarian idea of people sharing according to the principle of "From each according to ability, to each according to need," as opposed to the "American" idea of everybody out for himself with private property instead of that horrible collectivism nonsense.
Jacoby's Version of the Mayflower Colony Story
In Jacoby's column he links to an earlier column of his about the Mayflower colonists, titled "The Economics of Plymouth Rock." Jacoby tells a story about how these Pilgrims started out trying to have an egalitarian society based on "From each according to ability, to each according to need" but quickly discovered that this resulted in people not working and the colonists nearly starving to death. But, Jacoby tells us, when the colonists rejected that egalitarian nonsense and based their economy of good old private property and self-interest, then everything improved. Here are Jacoby's words:
It was human nature, not Mother Nature, that threatened the settlers with destitution. Plymouth had been established as a commune, and the terms of the agreement, signed before the Mayflower sailed, were strict: “All profits and benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means’’ were to become part of “the common stock.’’ Further, “all such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock and goods of the colony.’’
In other words, there was to be no private ownership. No one would be laboring to benefit himself or his family; no one would have any incentive to work harder. Whatever any individual produced would belong to all, and he would be entitled to get back only what he and his family needed. As Karl Marx would put it 255 years later, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need.’’ Communism failed in 20th-century Europe and China. It fared no better in 17th-century Massachusetts.
The Rest of the Story
While reading Jacoby's Mayflower story I was reminded of an even more famous conservative from a few decades ago, Paul Harvey. Harvey had a radio show that featured his signature phrase: "the rest of the story." Harvey would take a story recently featured in the mass media and dig up "the rest of the story," which, when one heard it, would completely change one's understanding of the events recounted in the mainstream version.
So, what is the "rest of the story" for Jacoby's Mayflower story?
To start with, here's a Wikipedia paragraph just to refresh our memories about some key, but non-controversial, facts about the Mayflower colony:
The Mayflower was an English ship that transported the first English Puritans, known today as the Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England, to the New World in 1620. There were 102 passengers, and the crew is estimated to have been about 30, but the exact number is unknown. The ship has become a cultural icon in the history of the United States. The Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact prior to leaving the ship and establishing Plymouth Colony, a document which established a rudimentary form of democracy with each member contributing to the welfare of the community.
The rest of the story is about "the common stock" that Jacoby talks about--you know that horrible collectivist thing that was the opposite of good old capitalist private property. In Jacoby's account, the reader is led to believe that "the common stock" was all the wealth of the Mayflower colonists shared equally ("From each according, etc.") by all of them.
But it was no such thing!
The Plymouth Company investors initially invested about £1200 to £1600 in the colony before the Mayflower even sailed. The colonists had to pay this money back over seven years by harvesting supplies and shipping them back to the investors in England to be sold.
Each investor in the Plymouth Company was issued shares worth £10 and each adult colonist received one share and were given options to purchase more shares later on. For the first seven years, everything was to remain in the “common stock” which was owned by all the shareholders....
The fur trade industry was the colony’s economic salvation. For the first few years that the colony existed, the colonists struggled to make enough money to pay the investors back. In fact, they had to ask for more money just to keep the colony running and by the mid to late 1620s, they were deeply in debt to the investors.
Now let's do a little arithmetic, taking into account how many colonists there were. With 102 passengers on the Mayflower and the crew estimated to be 30 in number, lets assume there were 132 colonists. But 31 of these colonists were children, leaving 101 adults. According to Brooks, the investments in the Mayflower colony included £1200 to £1600 by non-colonist investors and £10 each by the adult colonists, of whom there were 101. If we assume, conservatively for the argument I'm going to make, that the non-colonists owned £1200 worth of shares in the common stock, and the colonists owned 101 times 10 equals £1010 worth of shares in it, then this would mean that the total value of the common stock was at least £1200 plus £1010 equals £2210. And this in turn would mean that the percentage of the common stack that was owned by the colonists was 1010 divided by 2210 equals 46%. Even less (39% ) if the non-colonists had invested the larger amount Brooks gives of £1600. Equivalently, the investors back home in England owned 54% to 61% of the common stock.
The rest of the story, then, is that the "common stock" was mostly owned not by the colonists but by investors back in England who were taking a hefty profit from the labor (under extremely harsh conditions!) of the colonists.
No wonder the colonists hated working for the "common stock"!
When the colonists abandoned working for the "common stock" they were not abandoning egalitarianism ("From each according to ability, to each according to need.") No! They were abandoning extreme capitalist exploitation ("You work your ass off for me, and I'll take most--54% to 61%--of the wealth you produce.")
Jacoby's Final Spin
Jacoby's version of the story continues this way:
To their credit, the settlers recognized that their problems resulted from the lack of private property, which was stifling productivity and bringing out the worst in their characters. And so in the spring of 1623, communism was replaced with capitalism.
“At length, after much debate of things, the governor’’ (Bradford meant himself ) “gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. ... And so assigned to every family a parcel of land. ... This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise. ... The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to set corn.’’
This is how the disaster of extreme capitalist exploitation, when it leads to everybody nearly starving to death, becomes, in the spin of a pro-capitalist like Jacoby, "communism." And this is how the rejection of debt slavery to capitalist investors becomes, in Jacoby's spin, "switching from communal to private property."
The fact is that when egalitarianism ("From each according to ability, to each according to need") swept about half of Spain in 1936-9, economic production greatly increased, as I write about here.
And another important fact is that Karl Marx opposed basing society on "From each according to ability, to each according to need" until very VERY far in the future of a "higher phase of communist society," as I show here.