Most Americans are familiar with the story of the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620, but few perhaps understand their early experiment with socialism and how its failure led them to embrace individual-driven capitalism.
[A]fter landing on Dec 21, 1620, the Pilgrims suffered horribly their first winter, with around half the colonists perishing. Aid from the now-famous native, Squanto, helped them survive with new planting techniques, but the harvests of 1621 and 1622 were still small.
The colony’s governor, William Bradford, wrote that its socialist philosophy greatly hindered its growth: Young men resented working for the benefit of other men’s wives and children without compensation; healthy men who worked thought it unjust that they received no more food than weak men who could not; wives resented doing household chores for other men, considering it a kind of slavery.
Governor Bradford wrote that to avoid famine in 1623, the Pilgrims abandoned socialism, Patton said. “At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land,” Bradford wrote.
The colonists, each of whom now had to grow their own food, suddenly became very industrious, with women and children who earlier claimed weakness now going into the fields to plant corn. Three times the amount of corn was planted that year under the new system.
“By the fall of 1624, the colonists were able to export a full boat load of corn!” Patton wrote. “And the Pilgrims settled with the Adventurers. They purchased the Adventurers stock in the colony and completed the transition to private property and free markets.”There is a strain of Christian thought that takes Jesus' red-letter words and uses them as proof-text support for big government communitarianism. While the Roman Catholic Church did this and does this to a moderate degree, this strain was most strongly expressed by movements like the Reformation-era Anabaptists, who cratered whole cities in Germany several hundred years ago, the Puritans, who also attempted to live like good totalitarian Commies before abandoning it in the face of unyielding survival pressure, or 20th Century South American liberation theology proponents, heirs of Marxism.
These examples of history must inform our thoughts when considering whether or not we presently have a free market--or something else entirely--when we hear Pope Francis' recent words criticizing capitalism and calling for even more State intervention in people's lives to alleviate their suffering. Indeed, while he correctly observes a widening gap between rich and poor, he mis-attributes the effects of modern corporatism for free market capitalism. (For clarity, "corporatism" is defined as the nexus of government, big business, and labor, although lately, due to labor's declining influence, it has gone from the tripartite model to a more binary form consisting of government and big business only). In this, he appears to have drunk the Marxist kool-aid, not surprising given his South American roots and his lack of direct experience with "successful" Socialism that his Papal predecessors did. Equally unsurprising, given his subscription to Roman Catholic scholastic thought, is his suggestion that State force be used to level what is unequal via wealth redistribution.
Instead of attacking capitalism itself, which has done far more to promote human welfare than any other system of resource allocation to date, perhaps Pope Francis would do better to address the real villain here--homo economicus, or the species of man who does nothing if it not in their own self interest. The real deficit here is in those Dickensian human hearts devoid of Christian charity, a mission field that appears quite ripe for Catholics and Christians alike. In contrast, calls to harness the State power to tax, and accomplish that which the Church has failed to do, are as un-Biblical as they are ill-advised. For these calls, if implemented, would not only likely fail to bring the levelling and redistribution they seek, but would most assuredly to lay liberty even lower.