Corn, Capitalism, & Compassion

The harvest festival of 1621 was followed in 1622 by a poor harvest for the Pilgrims, and combined with other woes that meant a hard winter of cold and starvation. In 1623, William Bradford wrote:

“So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtain a beter crope than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie….”

Edward Winslow had this account of their diagnosis of the problem and their proposed solution:

“This month of April [1623] being now come, on all hands, we began to prepare for corn. And because there was no corn left before this time, save that was preserved for seed; being also hopeless of relief by Supply: we thought best to leave off all other works, and prosecuted that, as most necessary.

“And because there was so small hope of doing good in that common course of labor that formerly we were in . . . Especially considering that self-love; wherewith every man, in a measure more or less, loveth and preferreth his own good before his neighbours’: and also the base disposition of some drones that as at other times so now especially, would be most burdenous to the rest. It was therefore thought best, That every man should use the best diligence he could, for his own preservation, both in respect of the time present, and to prepare his own corn for the year following: and bring in a competent portion for the maintenance of Public Officers, Fishermen, &c.; which could not be freed from their Cally, without greater inconveniences. . . .

“At a General Meeting of the Company, many courses were propounded: but this approved and followed, as being the most likely for the present and good of the Company; and therefore before this month, began to prepare our ground against seed time.

“In the midst of April, we began to set, the weather being then seasonable: which much incouraged us, giving us good hopes of after plenty. The setting season is good till the latter end of May.”

And so ended their communal raising of crops. Upon assignment of land to each family, the Plymouth Colony began years of prosperity. The benefits were evident and undeniable. Bradford commented:

“This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente.”

In “What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism,” Rabbi Aryeh Spero had some insightful statements on the impact our religious heritage has had on America’s prosperity. I don’t agree with all he writes, but he has some things to say that are important to remember. After mentioning the Bible’s valuation of work and its benefits, he writes:

“The Bible is not a business-school manual. While it is comfortable with wealth creation and the need for speculation in economic markets, it has nothing to say about financial instruments and models such as private equity, hedge funds or other forms of monetary capitalization. What it does demand is honesty, fair weights and measures, respect for a borrower’s collateral, timely payments of wages, resisting usury, and empathy for those injured by life’s misfortunes and charity.”

These concerns of the Bible are in regard to how we work and how we treat our fellow man in need. These are qualities of character. Spero nails the “religious” left, who, in my opinion, isn’t very religious, but merely cherry-picks and distorts various Bible passages for its own end. He comments:

“Many on the religious left criticize capitalism because all do not end up monetarily equal—or, as Churchill quipped, “all equally miserable.” But the Bible’s prescription of equality means equality under the law, as in Deuteronomy’s saying that “Judges and officers…shall judge the people with a just judgment: Do not…favor one over the other.” Nowhere does the Bible refer to a utopian equality that is contrary to human nature and has never been achieved.”

The “religious” left at times attempts to justify socialism by dragging out verses from the fourth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts on early Christians having all things in common and giving their land sale proceeds to the apostles for the care of the needy. Their actions, however, proceeded from their hearts, and it’s clear these acts were done voluntarily and without compulsion. It was not an endorsement of socialism.  In Acts 5 Peter’s condemnation of a couple was because they lied to God, not for refusing to sell and give what was theirs. Peter said:

“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Acts 5:4

Spero states:

“The motive of capitalism’s detractors is a quest for their own power and an envy of those who have more money. But envy is a cardinal sin and something that ought not to be.

“God begins the Ten Commandments with “I am the Lord your God” and concludes with “Thou shalt not envy your neighbor, not for his wife, nor his house, nor for any of his holdings.” Envy is corrosive to the individual and to those societies that embrace it. Nations that throw over capitalism for socialism have made an immoral choice.”

William Bradford left us this commentary on the folly of socialism:

“The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; -that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte.

“. . . Upon the poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of the mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none objecte this is mens corruption, and nothing to the course it selfe. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them.”

The Apostle Paul’s comment that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” cuts across economic systems and reveals the problem. The problem is the heart of man. Coercion by government does not change the heart, and a nation’s beneficial prosperity is not a work of government. The Bible’s commands regarding hard work and sound ethics, its condemnation of dishonesty and selfishness, and its instructions for compassion and care of the needy indicate God’s concern is with the heart. This biblical understanding of work and life found in the earliest days of our country laid the groundwork for a beneficial prosperity that by God’s grace yet lingers on in America.
__________
Edward Winslow, Good News From New England, in The Story of The Pilgrim Fathers, 1606-1623 A.D.; as told by Themselves, their Friends, and their Enemies, Edward Arber, ed. (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston MA: 1897) 575–577.
Of Plymouth Plantation, An Electronic Edition, William Bradford 1590-1657 (216–217). Original Source: Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, 1606-1646. Ed. William T. Davis. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.
Via Jim Hoft: Aryeh Spero, “What the Bible Teaches About Capitalism,” The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2012.

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