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Fox reporter rewrites history, claims socialism almost killed Thanksgiving

By John Byrne
Thursday, November 25, 2010 0:02 EDT
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If America hadn’t embraced capitalism, none of us would be alive. And if Democrats were in power, we’d all be starving.

Or at least that’s how Fox News reporter John Stossel tells it.

In a column published at FoxNews.com on Thanksgiving eve, Stossel blamed socialism for the near-failure of the first Thanksgiving.

“Had today’s political class been in power in 1623, tomorrow’s holiday would have been called ‘Starvation Day’ instead of Thanksgiving,” Stossel begins, in a column titled ‘The Lost Lesson of Thanksgiving.”

“Of course,” he adds, “most of us wouldn’t be alive to celebrate it.”

In Stossel’s narrative, Pilgrims and Native Americans almost botched the first Thanskgiving because they “organized their farm economy along communal lines.”

“Long before the failure of modern socialism, the earliest European settlers gave us a dramatic demonstration of the fatal flaws of collectivism,” Stossel writes. “Unfortunately, few Americans today know it.”

“The Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony organized their farm economy along communal lines,” he continues. “The goal was to share the work and produce equally. That’s why they nearly all starved.”

Stossel isn’t content to simply blame communal farming for the near-death of the Thanksgiving experience. He also explains what he considers the failure of socialism as a whole.

“When people can get the same return with less effort, most people make less effort,” he remarks. “Plymouth settlers faked illness rather than working the common property. Some even stole, despite their Puritan convictions. Total production was too meager to support the population, and famine resulted. This went on for two years.”

There was, however, no famine at Plymouth Plantation (there was at a settlement in Jamestown). Stossel’s retelling is a crude version of historical events. The New York Times‘ Kate Zernike debunked the account earlier this week.

“Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth, and their supporters in England, did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the ‘common course,’” she wrote. “But the plan was in the interest of realizing a profit sooner, and was only intended for the short term; historians say the Pilgrims were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism.”

“It was directed ultimately to private profit,” Richard Pickering, the deputy director of Plimoth Plantation, told Zernike.

“The arrangement did not produce famine,” the Times reporter continued. “If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving.

“The celebration would never have happened if the harvest was going to be less than enough to get them by,” Pickering was quoted as saying. “They would have saved it and rationed it to get by.”

“To call it socialism is wildly inaccurate,” Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a historian at New York University, told the Times. “It was a contracted company, and everybody worked for the company. I mean, is Halliburton a socialist scheme?’”

Stossel also posits that private property and free market economics would benefit Native Americans (who he describes as the US government’s “first conquest.”)

He quotes the director of a free-market thinktank as saying, “If you drive through western reservations, you will see on one side cultivated fields, irrigation, and on the other side, overgrazed pasture, run-down pastures and homes. One is a simple commons; the other side is private property. You have Indians on both sides. The important thing is someone owns one side.”

Stossel concludes: “Secure property rights are the key. When producers know their future products are safe from confiscation, they take risks and invest. But when they fear they will be deprived of the fruits of their labor, they will do as little as possible.”

Stossel’s column was highlighted Wednesday by the nonprofit MediaMatters, an organization that frequently criticizes Fox News.

Video of Stossel’s appearance was captured by the site Talking Points Memo and appears below.

 
 
 
 
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