The Forgotten Thanksgiving Lesson

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. We learned in grade school that it evolved from celebrations the early Pilgrims held to commemorate their bountiful harvests at Plymouth colony in the 1620s. What we didn’t learn in school is that nearly half of those Pilgrims who sailed here from England on the Mayflower died of starvation in their first winter of 1621. In fact, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, wrote that the colonists went hungry because many refused to work in the fields.

It seems that Plymouth colony had the equivalent of a modern-day socialist economy. Land and crops were held in common, and food was distributed based on need, not on production. The most able young men complained that they were asked to work hard for the benefit of other men’s families.

Finally, after the poor harvest of 1622, Bradford decided to give each household its own plot of land. They could keep what they produced or trade their crops for things they needed. The result was a truly bountiful harvest in 1623, and in the years that followed. It was instituting private property and a free market economy at Plymouth and other colonies that led to our annual Thanksgiving celebrations.

So, this Thanksgiving, let’s teach our children an economic lesson that the pilgrims had to learn the hard way: Socialism is a recipe for scarcity and starvation. Private property and free markets lead to prosperity and plenty.

Thanks to Victoria Taft for pointing out John Stossel’s column on this same topic posted yesterday. Great minds…

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.

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  • DMF

    Everybody needs to read this. I just read the article in the Albany Democrat Herald “don’t let fears erode freedom”. It was very timely and I think this history lesson should be tied to it

  • dean


    You are presenting a very selective history to your readers. New England settlements had a very mixed economy, and do not represent your image of free enterprise at all. Thet were cooperative settlements. Land was distributed to give each family access to similar resources, which is why land was often divided as long narrow strips oriented to rivers. Towns were compact, and we can say they exhibit “urban growth boundaries” out of practical necessity. Most of the land was held “in commons” with equal access to gather resources like wild game, wild salt grass hay, and maple sugar.

    There was zero religous freedom. Each town restricted population growth and thus its size. “outsiders” could not settle in corporate limits. Unwanted residents were forced to leave.

    New England towns as “free market” paragons? Hardly. Mixed economies, highly regulated, quais-socialist would be a better description.

    And how could the pilgrims have suffered the first winter because they failed to work the fields? They arrived in the fall, too late for planting in any case didn’t they?

    • DMF

      Even as selective history, the article still makes a very valid point. I would probably quit working if I had nothing to work for except to give it away. I strongly believe in capitalism and in its pure form does god for all.

      • dean

        Fine…but don’t support your philosophy from a false reading of history. Pure free markets have never existed and never will. Mixed systems are practical, which is why they are the norm.

        • DMF

          Only as long as that practicle part is not used for an excuse to be a burden on others as I see so many doing. As a convenience store owner, I see a lot of the results of that practicality and it isn’t good. It takes away desire to improve.

        • Steve Buckstein

          Dean, nobody says the Pilgrims adopted a “pure” free market economy. Read William Bradford’s history of the colony to see how moving from communal farming to individual or family plots of land made a huge difference in the fortunes of those who survived its disastrous beginnings.

  • Jerry

    People, people. Everyone knows communism, collectivism, socialism, whatever you want to call it – DOES NOT WORK, NEVER HAS WORKED, AND NEVER WILL WORK.
    If you give people something for free they have no respect or appreciation for it.
    Nothing is life is free – so it is wrong to lead someone to believe that anything is or ever can be.
    Of course the collective way of life did not work for them. It has never worked for anyone.
    Wake up people – and be thankful that you live somewhere that is so abundant and so good that you actually have time to “debate” nonsense like whether communes work or not.
    If you lived in, say, Cuba or North Korea, you would not even be thinking about such things…you would be too busy trying to survive.

    • Steve Buckstein

      Touché, Jerry. touché.

      • dean

        Mixed system …meaning part communal and part free enterprise. That is the system the pilgrims used, that is the system every modern political economy uses to varying degrees. Comparisons to North Korea do not shed any light. Who is advocating the North Korean system?

        The debate should be on how mixed, not completely free versus communist. How much socialism…and how much regulated capitalism is best for us? Its not one or the other.
        the two are entirely compatible.

        Also…it is fine to say nothing should ever be given to anyone, but that does not hold up. we “give” kids a public education and do not charge them tuition, we “give” elderly people social security checks and medicare. These givings are paid for by taxes. Its called sharing the wealth, which is part of living in a civilized world.

        And Steve, it was never the pilgrim’s intent to maintain communal farming. It took a few years to survey the land, sort things out, then divide the land and give it away, or those parts that were not held in commons in any case. You are juxtaposing a choice that was never actually there. The Pilgrims brought a medieval system across the ocean with them, and that system was a mix of private plots and commons, as it had been for a thousand years.

        • Jerry

          Dean – I stand by my statement. Just because we “school” kids for “free” doesn’t mean we should or that it even works. Sharing the wealth is stupid if the recipient need do nothing to get his or her share.
          If our “free” education is so great you tell me why we lag behind so many other countries. And if social security is so great you tell me why people would drop out in a New York minute if they were able to.
          You simply do not understand anything I said.
          But, I expected this and am not surprised.

          PS – please send me some of your money so I can get a new HD tv so when everything goes digital I won’t be robbed of my right to watch the excellent and educational programming available to me free. I can only afford an older, tube style, analog set. Whatever shall I do????

          • DMF

            Thank you,

            our “free school system” does not work, not only that I’m constantly being bombarded with requests to donate to whatever is going on with the school kids that day. First I don’t mind helping out, I do mind being expected to pay their way, just because I’m in business and secondly they are being taught to expect from others. The parents expect us to pay for their kids. They get a lot of fun and recreation in school BUT they don’t know anything. Most can’t read and can’t even count a dollars worth of change. NO FREE SCHOOLS ARE NOT WORKING AS A WHOLE. Yes there are a few but they are a minority.

            People use a mixed system because it’s easier than do it yourself. I’m so glad I have enough pride in myself to do things for my self and it feels good to pat myself on the back and say “I did it”

        • DMF

          There is a big difference between a mixed system mandated by government and a mixed system coming about by those who care enough to help each other.

          Mandated mixed systems create selfishness and antagonism.
          Mixed systems by mans humanity to man create giving and friendship.

          Major difference

          • dean

            Jerry and DMF,

            We’ll agree to disagree. My son graduated from Cleveland High, a fine public school with very fine teachers in Portland last year, and is now at the very fine, very public University of Montana. I can assure you all that he reads and writes very well. A comparable private school education would have cost well over $100,000, plus about $40K per year for college. That is not affordable for most people, including myself.

            Comparisons with other countries? The ones that are beating our pants off, Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan…are all PUBLICLY funded school systems aren’t they? And most of them throw university education into the mix as a public expense as well.

            People want to opt out of Social Security? I did not see a rush to the exits when Bush tried to privatize the system after the 04 election. Did I miss something? Maybe wealthy people would benefit from opting out, but not most people.

            You seem to mix up the term “public” with the term “free.” “Public” services; education, police, fire, street cleaning, parks, clean water, and so forth are not free to anyone except the very poor. We all pay for them through our taxes and/or user fees. I don’t view them as “free,” but I do see the taxes I pay as a necessary price for living in a cvilized world. I use some services and don’t use others, but this is a community, not a shopping mall. I can’t just pay for the ones that most benefit me.

            Mixed systems do have government mandates. If they didn’t then some would simply opt out and free ride on everyone else. For example, I don’t favor more prison construction (the US already has the 3rd highest incarceration rate in the world) or the war in Iraq. And now that my son has graduated high school, should I be able to opt out of paying for the education of my neighbor’s kids? Okay, but then I had better be prepared to expand those prisons after all, because the number one predictor of someone landing in prison is their education level.

            Back to the Pilgrims…they knew they could not survive and prosper as individuals. They were a community. They had rules, customs, taxes, and limited freedom within this context. This is reality. Rules, regulations, taxes…some make more sense than others. Some outlive their initial purpose. Some are too constraining, others not constraining enough apparently (unregulated sub-prime mortgage lending for example).

            Your HD TV example is a good one Jerry. Should we all chip into a public pot so that everyone can get a new HD TV? I would say no. But if a majority happen to say yes, and this gets voted on, and it is funded in a constituionally acceptable manner, then I will chip in for your TV Jerry, and you will chip in for mine. (The New Englanders would decide this at a town meeting, and would probably vote the proposal down after debating it, being the sensible people that they are).

          • DMF

            I did not say all, I said there are a few but they are a minority. If a child has a parent that cares enough to see they learn, ok, but most just leave it up to the school to be mother, father, brother, sister and the kid next door.

            My son attended public school for four years. He learned to do math by using colored blocks. I never did figure that one out. He couldn’t add 2 and 2 and come up with 4 twice in a row. He could not read. He then finished his school in a small private school, that was not expensive, In four years he learned to read, do math and actually recognized numbers. He went from nothing to a B and C average, which is how they graded in the olden days. No, public school does not impress me. I work in the public and I don’t see any great shakes in the kids coming out of the school.

            I liked the HD TV example too and if the majority voted to get us all a new one, does that make it right? sensible? worthwhile? Not.

          • carol

            Your first sentence says it all. Unfortunately, there are too many parents trying ot keep up with the Joneses to pay attention to whatever their children are doing. Consequently, others in the classroom are distracted by the ‘actin out’ to get much needed attention. I have two very close relations who have retired from teaching, one in elementary, and one in high school. Both say they would not teach in today’s classrooms. A good teacher can easily get discouraged trying to keep order in large classes.

          • DMF

            Sorry missed some other comments. You are absolutely right about community. When good works are NOT mandated, people will naturally turn to each other. I’m not stupid, I know if we all lived in a wilderness, we would turn to each other for help and support and we would receive it almost all the time.

            That is good, it’s when these things are required of us, mandated by other people who see it as a good thing, it loses its good.

            I get really angry when I hear people say I make too much money and I should give it to the poor guy that prefers to sit around and live off the public dole. Sorry, I work my —– off for what I have, and resent being told I have to give it to somebody else just because they are too tired to work. So sorry.

            I resent it because ten years ago we were wondering where our next meal waas coming from. We are not college educated and not only did we not come from a moneyed family, we don’t even have living family.

            We do, however have a desire to reach our goals. I have never been on welfare, and have never gone to the government for handouts or to anybody else for that matter. I remember living on $18.00 a month in the seventies and eating eggs from our five chickens and mild from two goats.

            I have had wonderful friends and a few times people, I didn’t even know give us a leg up. It was not asked for, but because they could and they cared, they did it. That kind of thing is why I’m against mandated socialism, Mixed systems or whatever you want to call it.

            We are now successful business people and it came from nothing but going after what we wanted out of our lives. Why should I give it to some bum that doesn’t want to go after what he wants. I resent it.

          • dean

            I’m not trying to talk you into anything. Why should you give your hard earned money to “some poor guy who sits around…?” Well you probably shouldn’t, and in fact you probably aren’t since welfare reform passed 10 years ago. Most government spending is not going to some anonymous bum. Its going to national defense, prisons, police, fire, border patrols, port inspection, banking oversight, public schools (which you had a bad experience with…ok, but don’t over generalize about that) retired people, streets, sewers, water systems, and kids who happen to have been born into lousy situations.

            We don’t live in the wilderness, we live in a complex world that is expensive to run, and we have a political system that has to sort out the legitimate needs of 300 million people and figure out how to pay for it all. Decisions are made that cause many of us to scratch our heads. Its an imperfect system run by imperfect people elected by imperfect voters. Cest la vis.

            We probably have more in common than you might think. But my view is that none of us are truly “self-made.” If you or I were born in Bangladesh we would be standing in a line waiting for donated rice right now, our home washed away, owning the shirt on our backs ands trying to figure out how to keep our kids alive. All of us may need help at one time or another. The platform of modern civilization is very shaky.

            Back to the HD TV, no, it would be a stupid decision that we both should argue against. But if the decision is made anyway, we should pay our share, move on, and try to win the next one. I’m fine with particular objections to particular programs. I have a hard time with generalized ranting against “government.” We need a big, expensive government a lot more than most people admit.

          • Jerry

            Dean – you are dead wrong about our money not going to some fool who won’t work for it. Welfare is still strong in this country and many, many people are living on the dole. Reform only slowed expansion – it did not end our meaningless and failure ridden welfare system.

          • DMF

            AH Dean you are wrong, our society is a wilderness.

            Yes you are correct there are no self made men, God created us. We have the intelligence and the free will to make something of the raw clay.

            I agree with Jerry, If you want more taxes, simply pay them. If you look even on your tax return there all kinds of places you can donate to. And I’m willing to bet if you sent your extra money to the government, they would not send it back. The problem with liberal thinking is those who think that way, do not practice what they preach as individuals. If you really believe what you say and I have no doubt you do, be the first to lead the way, then the perfect mixed system you see will have a start. It will not go anywhere if we don’t volunteer and I don’t mean volunteer the other guy, do it yourself. If you believe what you say, you can have a real good feeling that will exceed any you might have from saying we all have to pay more.

            Yes, we are definitely going to disagree, but I do appreciate your expression of your thoughts, I’m just glad I’m as old as I am so when it all turns to dust, I’ll be gone.

          • Steve Buckstein

            Dean, when you say “…I do see the taxes I pay as a necessary price for living in a civilized world” it reminds me of a great little essay by economist Mark Skousen.

            Here’s the relevant excerpt:

            “Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, ‘Taxation is the price we pay for civilization.’ But isn’t the opposite really the case? Taxation is the price we pay for failing to build a civilized society. The higher the tax level, the greater the failure. A centrally planned totalitarian state represents a complete defeat for the civilized world, while a totally voluntary society represents its ultimate success.”

            You likely won’t agree, but others reading this exchange may gain new insights into why lower taxes mean more civilization, not less.

            Read it all at:

            Persuasion vs. Force

          • dean

            Steve…you are absolutely right. I don’t agree.

            The philosophy behind a centrally planned state is that people can be made perfect within a perfect system where all is shared and greed is supressed or eradicated. The philosophy behind a completely free, no government coersion, voluntary society seems to be that people are already perfect and we just need to get rid of government so they can voluntarily solve every issue in peace and harmony. Both depend on perfection or near perfection, which is why both end in catastrophe wherever they are ever actually implemented. Absolute control and absolute freedom are both grand illusions.

            Do lower taxes mean “more civilization?” Is the United States more civilized than France, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and so forth? We have far higher crime and many more people in prison than any of those countries. We have far higher rates of poverty. Far lower health at far higher cost. Far more obesity. We use 2-3 times the energy for the same economic output. We go to war at the drop of a hat. More civilized?

            And even internally, are low tax states like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia “more civilized” than Minnesota, Wisconson, Iowa, and Vermont? By what measure besides lower taxes? Because they execute more people?

            No Steve…I don’t buy it. We liberals look around the world and see a different picture. Conservatives and libertarians measure the US against North Korea and Cuba and say “aren’t we great?” We measure ourselves against Canada and western Europe and say…maybe we need a bit MORE taxation…

          • Steve Buckstein

            Dean, I’m sure you’ll understand if I disagree with your desire for “a bit MORE taxation…” I don’t believe there is a simple or linear correlation between specific taxes and specific societal outcomes, be they poverty levels, crime, health care or what have you. As you have said, we live in a complex society. You think this means we need more government. I think government is not well equipped to deal with complexity.

            But we hopefully do both agree that coercion should be the last, not the first resort to solve problems, be they individual or societal. You seem to believe that going to war “at the drop of a hat” is a bad form of coercion, and I agree. But I think even “a bit more taxation” is coercion also, and you either disagree or think that a little more coercion is a price you’re willing to pay if the outcome is to your liking.

            Again, we may simply need to agree to disagree, but thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

          • Jerry

            Yes, the “low” states as you call them are far more civilized than lib tax and spend states like Oregon. Far, far more civilized because they are far, far more free!
            It was great of you to point this out – thanks!

  • Jerry

    It would seem my innocent, albeit correct, comment about communal “living” generated quite a nice discussion.

    I only have this to say to Dean. If you want more taxes then simply pay them. Nothing is stopping you, expect your own greed.

    But, guess what, you really don’t want more taxes or you would pay them. You simply want people who make more than you do to pay more than you do. It is as simple as that. I know.

    People like you NEVER actually put their money where there mouth is. If they did, Salem would be awash in unasked for cash. Please, Dean, either send in the money or quit blabbing about how great it is to take from the hard working and give to the lazy.

    Any not only was my HDTV a great example, but it drew from you such a marvelously silly response I could not help but laugh out loud. You said if the majority wanted it then it would be fine with you and I would pay for your set and you would pay for mine. What utter nonsense. If we each paid for each other’s set then how does that help anyone? What you really meant to say was I would pay for yours and you would not pay for mine, which would then make you happy.

    Guess what – there is no “right” to TV. None whatsoever.

    Man, I can hardly believe people who think like you do are actually out there – it is very scary. I suppose next you will say we must take all profits from the big, bad oil companies who profit from our misery.

    Please leave me out of your wonderful world of take from the rich and give to the poor by force. I want no part of it.

    • dean

      Steve…yes I can agree to disagree and appreciate your civil and intelligent discussion. No problem. I’d like to twist your arm into admitting that your initial pilgrim analogy was not the best choice to make your larger point though, but I don’t expect that.

      Lets say we agree that “coercion,” your word (not mine) for taxation WITH representation, is not the first solution to grab at for any given societal problem. Volunteerism and self-sufficiency should be turned to first, for many reasons. But if that approach fails, then at what point should taxation to finance a public approach be the solution? I see time and again libertarians and conservatives choosing to downplay, ignore, or flat out deny obvious problems simply because they don’t want to face the music.

      And I will turn that around. If a public program fails to solve a problem then it needs to be analyzed and in some cases changed or done away with. I know from experience that public bureaucracies are not the most efficient ways to get work done, but that is another subject.

      No one enjoys paying taxes, and that includes we liberals. But I think it is unfair and short-sighted to assume liberals only want to spend other people’s money. What we want is a fair sharing of the burden, and yes, many of us believe a “fair sharing” does mean that those with the most put the most into the communal pot. Jesus taught the same principle by the way. It wasn’t just Karl Marx.

      You say there is no linear correlation between tax rates and poverty rates. But there is a lot of evidence that the high tax countries and states I cited have far lower poverty rates than low tax places. How do you explain away that evidence?

      Jerry…you don’t know me, so don’t draw unsubstantiated conclusions about my own financial situation.

      My point on the HD TV analogy, which you seem to have missed, was that I agreed with you that a law that taxed us to pay for each others HD TVs would be a bad one, because TVs are a luxury, not a necessity. But if it did pass and was found constitutional then I would pay it, and so would you or you would be a law breaker. The new law presumably would establish a “right” to a TV in your analogy. I didn’t say I agreed with that idea.

      For better or worse, you and I have to inhabit the same world. And yes, there are plenty of people who think like me out here. As the song goes, we are zombies, but we are not unreasonable about it.

      • DMF

        If you look at the tax rates, those who make more money, do pay more taxes. Those who don’t make any money get refunds. When I write my checks totaling over $35,000 at the end of the year to pay my taxes, I feel that is my fair share because that is not tax on money I take home to live on. It is tax on product sitting on my shelves that hasn’t been sold. I would like you to tell me what is a fair share. Say I make $60,000 dollars a year, what is my fair share of taxes? Please tell me.

        • dean

          DMF…my calculator is not that good. We are in the same ballpark income wise by the way, and I also have my own business, though I don’t have any inventory. I pay on my net, and yes it hurts to write the check overy year.

          Yes, many of those with wealth pay more, and many of those who are poor pay little, or if they have kids may get a small check through the earned income tax credit. That is how it should be, only more so if we want to reduce poverty, crime, and related social problems.

          If it were up to me, at the federal level I would raise the top marginal tax rate at least back to where it was pre-Bush. Those that would pay more can well afford it. I would not raise the federal income tax on the middle class, but would raise gas taxes or have a carbon tax, and use this to offset the SSI tax or boost reserves. (We need to get off Mideast oil or at least send them less of the money they are using to kill us with).

          At the state level I would have a value added tax, and drop the income tax at the lower levels.

          So in sum, tax the rich more, shift middle class taxes a bit, and increase rebates to the poor. The rich will still be rich at the end of the day, we will improve our energy situation, and have fewer social ills to manage. It works in Europe, Canada, and Austrailia, and and should work here.

          Hardly radical communism, wouldn’t you agree?

          • DMF

            Between state and federal we paid out over 42%. Sorry, I think that is a very fair. Not to me, but plenty fair. I wish I had that much to live on.

            The small refund the low income people receive is as much as $4080 for 2006 for the refundable earned income credit with a family earning $19,000 annually with two children, plus they get child tax credits of $1000.00 for each qualifying child. If that doesn’t wipe out their tax liability the earned income credit is on top of everything else they paid in. Plus they may qualify for an additional refundable credit if they meet certain criteria. That is for federal, then Oregon gives them more.

            Nice check at the end of the year. I’m sure you have no clue what they spend it on in my convenience store, I can tell you, party time.

          • dean

            When you say “they” spend it on party time at your store, are you seriously saying that EVERY poor family spends its limited resources on the same junk? Aren’t you over generalizing just a bit here?

          • dmf

            Of course not, but our customers are mostly low and unemployed income. You don’t live in a town of under 2000 people and not know everybody and what they do and when they do it.

            Now to clarify all I did say, that is a nice check at the end of the year and I know a lot of people really do put it to good use. I tend to generalize things and probably shouldn’t.

          • Jerry

            If it works so well in Austalia, as you claim, why is Ohio’s GDP the same as all of Australia’s???

            By the way, I never saw in any of your replies the date and amount of the extra tax money you are going to send to Salem and the Feds.

            Why don’t you pretend the rates are pre-Bush and pay those amounts?

            I know why – because you don’t really believe what you said – if you did you would pay that amount to be “fair” and to reduce all our problems, etc., etc. as you so masterfully pointed out. High tax rates solve a lot of problems…yes they do! But, Dean, if they do, why haven’t the wacked out libs won the war on poverty? Why was the Katrina response so horrible in a Democrat run state. Why are the blue states not perfect little havens? I think I know, but you might not like the answer….the stuff you propose simply doesn’t work!

            Gosh, I never knew life was so much better in Canada – and Europe, too! Wow, if only I could live as well as they do. Should I get my papers in order and go? Such utopias. I guess you mean France, right? They have no unemployment, no strikes, no poverty, great health care for free, no crime, and really good cheese and wine. I’m off!!

            We can always agree to disagree, but when you are wrong you should admit it. I would say you are wrong – because since LBJ’s time (or earlier many would say) Dems have tried to buy everyone’s way out of poverty and it simply has not worked – not even a little.

            Did it ever occur to you that Dems need a class of people dependent on them? It has to me. And they need those hapless, luckless losers to keep voting for them time and time again based on nothing but empty promises.

          • dean

            DMF…I have no doubt poor people often make dumb choices with the little money they have. I see rich people do the same with their money, but they have more of it to waste. Wasn’t it Leona Helmsley who just left her entire estate to her doggie?

            Jerry, The US is the richest nation in the world, or at least in the top 3 on a per capita income basis (and prior to the dollar meltdown). Yet we have the highest rate of poverty among all of the “developed” nations, including Australia. AND…we have the lowest tax rates, particularly on the wealthy. Those are facts, easy to look up, less easy to understand or accept.

            I never said Australia Canada, France (great cheese aside,) or any other nation is a utopia. I don’t believe in utopias, and have not since I was around 21. What I am saying is that in spite of having LOWER per capita incomes, they also have managed to have LOWER poverty, LOWER crime, and BETTER health. Could this be in part because they have HIGHER taxation on wealth? Duh!

            Johnson at least tried to reduce poverty. He over promised and he under funded due to the Viet Nam war. The nation came apart, the left fractured, the south went Republican due to the civil rights act, Reagan was elected, and the rest, as they say is history. We libs are still in our early stage recovery after 27 years of playing defense.

            I do not agree with you that efforts to reduce poverty have completely failed. Many have succeeded. Before the social security system was created most old people were in fact poor. Broad based income redistribution systems are expensive but do work. Narrowly focused, targeted systems like the EITC and Headstart also work, but are politically unpopular because people resent giving to people who are unlike themselves, so these approaches tend to be under funded.

            We whacked out libs have not “won” the war on poverty because you whacked out conservatives have prevented adequate funding. The US, as the richest nation, ought to have the LOWEST poverty rate in the world.

            Conservatives and libertarians are correct in arguing that at some point, income redistribution becomes counter-productive and can inhibit economic growth, which can end up creating even more poverty, which has happened in Germany. I’m saying we are nowhere near that point in the US and that the choices we have made are costing us dearly in having a large underclass that contributes to high crime, costly prisons, and reduced productivity. Some additional redistribution would do us a lot of good. Too much would do us harm.

            I guess where we differ in our ethics is in seeing poor people as “hapless, luckless, losers.” A whole lot of poor people happen to be kids Jerry. Maybe you think we can or should just write them off. I can’t do that.

            On my personal taxes, If your point is that liberals ought to just chip in more voluntarily so you conservatives can freeload on us, no dice.

            As for Katrina…the answer is a 4 letter word. BUSH. A disaster of that magnitude requires a swift and efficient federal response. Bush and his political appointees fiddled while an American city drowned, to his everlasting shame.

      • Steve Buckstein

        Dean, you don’t have to “twist my arm” into admitting that my initial pilgrim analogy may not have been the best choice to make my larger point. I readily admit that, but remember, it was Thanksgiving and I wanted to explain that the Pilgrims had little to be thankful for until they abandoned communal farming and let free market principles and private property reign.

        Perhaps on May Day I’ll use the former Soviet Union as a better example.

        • dean

          Steve…except that the Pilgrims didn’t “abandon communal farming.” What they did was create a better balance between individual initiative and “the commons.” And that is what the US has done ever since…balance individual rights against common interests.

          The Soviet system is a good measure of what not to do, I agree completely with you there.

          And this Christmas, maybe I will provide a post on Ebeneezer Scrouge to illustrate the limitations of individual greed and wealth accumulation.

          Just kidding. Be well.

          • Steve Buckstein

            Dean, actually a point-counterpoint on Scrooge might be interesting. What you see as “the limitations of individual greed and wealth accumulation,” others might see as the beneficial power of capitalism and the creation (rather than the mere accumulation) of wealth. But let’s save that discussion for Christmas.

  • Jerry

    Dean – of course not all poor people are losers, but I do think, in many, many cases, they are poor by choice. Choices to drop out of school, not work, take drugs, commit crimes, etc. Many, many of your “poor” people have made such choices and have no one to blame but themselves.

    Secondly, what you consider poverty much of the rest of the world would consider a blessing. Poverty numbers and income levles are a joke in this country. How many poor people have cars, tvs, houses, etc.? A lot of them. How many are “poor” due to their own spending habits or their own choices? A lot.

    Thirdly, how many poor people provide jobs for others? Leave the rich alone in your silly wealth re-distribution schemes and they will provide jobs – they always do and always will. By the way, if you remove all incentives for the “rich” to do well, there will be no wealth to redistribute. It is kind of like taxing tobacco to the point where no one smokes – then where is your money for the children?? This is a concept you libs seem not to be able to grasp.

    Fourth, you never addressed my contention that things freely gotten are undervalued and under appreciated. I would argue that much of the crime we have is from giving people too much free stuff – and I am serious about that.

    I knew you would never pay the tax rate you think all of us should be forced to pay on your own volition. Why would you? You can not be taken seriously unless you do. Your beliefs do not need to extend to me to be valid. If you will not act on your beliefs, how well-thought out are they? How sincere are they?

    Your comment about Reagan was silly. He remains one of the greatest presidents in our nation’s history. He stood for conservatism, gave our country a renewed sense of pride and purpose, and did destroy the Soviet Union, all of which were great, good things.

    I guess you think Jimmy Carter helped our country with rampant unemployment, high interest rates, and failed foreign policy every time it was tried. He truly was a great, great man, wasn’t he?

    Ok, enough is enough. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year even though we will never agree on much it appears. I hope we could agree that we do live in the greatest country on earth – no exceptions. I also would remind you that neighboring states were hit hard with Katrina, too, and they managed fine without George Bush – you ignore that fact completely. How very convenient.

    Anyway, may God bless and Merry Christmas to all!!!

    • dean


      Thanks for the civil discourse and the blessings. Much obliged and back to you.

      The two biggest predictors of poverty are being born into it and failing to get a decent education. Poor kids are typically sent to poor schools with lots of other poor kids, and the law of averages kicks in. Most get left behind.

      So with 2 strikes, it doesn’t take much to encounter a 3rd one. Sure, people make bad choices, including poor and rich people. But when a poor person makes a bad choice or encounters bad luck there is no cushion, and not much support to recover.

      I’m sure that feudal lords used to look out at our peasant forefathers and said; “look at them. They are poor because they are stupid, ignorant, they work just hard enough to pay their taxes and have enough to eat, they derserve their lot.” And they were right for 1000 years. What changed? Opportunities eventually opened up.

      You are right that being poor here is not the same as being poor in Ghana or El Salvador. But the common international measure of poverty is earning less than 50% of the median income for any given country, in part because stuff costs a lot more here than in the 3rd world.

      My view is that we have the highest poverty rate in the first world because of our policies, and your man Reagan did a lot to roll back what little aid the poor had. He may have done other good things, such as standing down the Soviets and helping to push them over the edge. But he did leave us with a legacy of debt and accelerated the gap between rich and poor through his union busting, minimum wage restricting, and overall budget priorities.

      Carter was not a good president, and I did not vote for him in 1980. He has been a great ex-president and a good man of generosity and peace.

      Some of the rich are buisness owners who hire people if that is in their interest. Others are wastrels who spend their inheritance. Either way, I’m not proposing confiscatory rates of taxation. I think they should be higher than at present, and I base that on three observations.

      First, we have been running record deficits since Bush cut taxes after his initial election. 6 years of a republican congress and they were unable or unwilling to cut spending to the available resources. So raise taxes and balance the darn budget, like Clinton after the Reagan-1st Bush deficits with zero ill efects to the economy or productivity.

      Second, there are the urgent public needs: energy transition away from fossil fuels, maintenance and expansion of infrastructure, caretaking of public lands and resources, AND increased assistance to poor people to give them a firmer hand up. We need a period of reinvestment.

      Third, the gap between the rich, middle classes and poor is wider now than it has been since the 1920s. This gap is not socially or politically sustainable.

      Sure, some people will take handouts and abuse them. I have seen that in my own family. others will take them and better themselves. Either way, we could at least reduce crime rates, social deviancy and give the kids a better chance.

      I rejected the tax rate question you posed for two reasons. First, I’m saying the rate should be increased at the top margins, not the middle class margins. I don’t pay at the top margin, so by my own definition I am paying my fair share.

      Second, we already have a “voluntary” tax system that is called charity. If I or anyone has extra money in our pockets to give away, we all prefer to give it directly to our cause of choice and bypass the middleman (government). That only makes sense. The problem is that charitable giving is nowhere near enough to address the multiple issues that only a reasonably well funded government can address.

      I don’t like bureaucracy any more than the next person. I used to work for the feds and I know there is a lot of waste and inefficiency. That is another topic for another time.

      And Jerry, yes I agree America is a great country. The greatest? In some ways yes, particularly the way we have been able to welcome foriegners to our shores, our bill of rights, our legacy of national parks and forests, our gradual expansion of democracy to women, African Americans, and the Indian people who were here first. We are innovative and practical, and when we put our shoulders to the wheel we seem capable of solving nearly any problem.

  • Dog training

    Very interesting… as always! Cheers from -Switzerland-.

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