Thursday, April 14, 2011

400 years later socialism still doesn't work

I recently started reading History of Maryland  (also available on Amazon) by John Thomas Scharf, published in 1879.

This passage regarding the problems faced by the early settlers of Virginia caught my attention:
But a still more formidable enemy assailed the colonists, born of their own improvidence. Famine, and its accompanying diseases, soon set in, and in one year from the time of their landing, their numbers were reduced from 100 to 38; and these, too, would have perished but for timely supplies of corn, which Smith had procured at great risk from the Indians. Among those who perished was Bartholomew Gosnold, the originator of the expedition; and we can but regret that he did not live long enough to see even the first glimmering success in that adventure he had been the earliest to advocate. The cause of this calamity lay partly in the provision of their charter, which required that the product of the united labor of the emigrants should be brought into the public stores, and that all should draw their supplies from thence. For nearly five years was this provision enforced; and during that time, with the exception of the short period of Smith's administration, the condition of the colony was most wretched. It is difficult to conceive a state of things more propitious to the theories of Communism or Socialism, and yet the failure was most signal. A productive soil invited cultivation, while rapidly diminishing stores admonished to industry and labor, and yet, in the face of certain ruin, the large majority wasted their time in idleness, relying for subsistence upon the stores provided by the industrious few. In this they were encouraged by the censurable course of their officers who controlled the supplies, and feasted abundantly, while others had doled out to them a pint of damaged wheat or barley.
I would imagine that the political leaders of the day justified this policy by citing the Bible. Today, in our less religious society, our leaders rely on the more general themes of compassion. But there is nothing compassionate or wise about this sort of theft. And I do not assume that our leaders today have good motives for their actions either. They suffer from what Augustine called libido dominandi, the lust to dominate. They know that socialist schemes do nothing to help the poor or society as a whole, but they sure like the power that comes from having your money.

1 comment:

Cate Custis said...

Socialism tends not to work for a number of reasons, but in the Va. colony the complete lack of like-mindedness was one factor. The colonists were of radically differing social status with their leaders representing the privileged classes and the vast majority of the others drawn from the lower classes. Many of them had not had any schooling, nor were they adept at farming. Smith himself bemoaned the lack of skilled laborers and artisans. Essentially, the rich men who came over paid the passage for anyone who wanted to get out of England because of head-rights, the entitlement of the payer to 50 acres of land for every person he brought over.
The Virginia Company had one goal: huge profits. They had no idea what would generate those profits, though I suspect they were thinking that gold was lying around on the ground where it could be picked up and shipped back. Their failure to plan anything caused a great deal more hardship than should have existed, but, then they didn't really care. They sat in England expecting the colonists to ante up and the cost in human life concerned them not at all.
These are only a few of the factors that created such a failure in Jamestowne. When you add it all up, it appears to be an almost deliberate attempt to fail. The Virginia experience makes the Massachusetts Company look like the genius organizers of all time...