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November 22, 1 Comment November 22, our annual article about Thanksgiving Thanksgiving is about sharing prosperity, and it's a good time to think about where prosperity comes from. The Pilgrims figured it out in We'll retell that story as we celebrate the way it lives on in countless U.
And in particular at one company, McDonald's, that in its humdrum way beautifully demonstrates the source of prosperity and the American way of life. The Pilgrims started with so little.
They had to hide in England because the authorities considered them dangerous. They fled to Holland but found themselves compelled to take menial jobs. On the way to America, many of the company died. They lost their way to Virginia and landed in Massachusetts just as winter set in.
To cope with want, the Pilgrims made the same mistake that so many countries do even today: They divided all their land, efforts, supplies and produce in common, to each according to his need.
As always in such systems, need surpassed supply. The Pilgrims spent their first three years in America suffering from hunger, illness, cold and infighting. People stole from the common stores "despite being well whipped," according to William Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation. After much debate, the Governor decided that each settler should plant corn for themselves.
That year, three times as many acres were planted as the year before. Prosperity was not long in coming. The Pilgrims turned from their Old World system of common ownership to incentives. They didn't go that way out of ideological conviction, but because they didn't have the luxury of waiting for support to come to them.
How many families in America tell the same tale? Before the switch to incentives, the hungry settlers were at each other's throats. Hard workers resented receiving the same portions of food as those who were not able to do even a quarter of the work they did.
Young men resented having to work without compensation to feed other men's wives and children. Mature men resented receiving the same allotments as did the younger and meaner sort. Women resented being forced to do laundry and other chores for men other than their husbands.
Many people felt too sick to work. But when they were allowed to farm their own plots, the most amazing thing happened. Everybody — the sick, the women and even the children — went out willingly into the fields to work. People started to respect and like one another again. It wasn't that they were bad people, Bradford explained; it's just human nature.
Adam Smith came to the same conclusion later, and Friedrich Hayek updated Smith's ideas for the 20th century. But we don't need to go back to New England for understanding.
Similar outcomes can be seen at McDonald's every day. For centuries, people on the lower rungs of the social ladder weren't able to eat meat. They ate grains and beans. But people like beef.
When McDonald's started popping up in every neighborhood, all of a sudden there was an affordable place for families to eat. Previously, one of the main differences between the upper and lower classes was that the rich could eat out.
Even if the poor could afford the tab, they couldn't hire baby sitters, and they couldn't bring their kids to the elegant establishments designed for the rich because they would have disturbed the other diners.Note: These questions and answers can’t be copied.
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