Happy Communist Thanksgiving from the Mackinac Center

Why Michigan newspapers continue to reference the Mackinac Center as a think tank rather than a willing partner in the right wing echo chamber has always been a mystery. Evidence abounds.

Take for instance, its recent reposting of President Emeritus Larry Reed’s Thanksgiving piece, which tells us that the original Thanksgiving took place only after the Pilgrims overthrew their own communist system. A system that had nearly starved them:

Few, if any, public school history books will tell you this, but the first Thanksgiving took place after several years of bad harvests resulting from bad ideas. The Pilgrims had organized themselves communist-style. Property was held in common and what the people produced was deposited in a common storehouse and distributed equally. Rewards were not tied to efforts. The people faced starvation as a result. Ultimately, it wasn’t a poverty conference or even a federal department that fixed the problem. It was private property, free enterprise and iindividual initiative. It was perhaps Americans’ first lesson in Economics 101, one that we should never forget. Teaching that lesson, and how its principles relate to current issues, is what think tanks like the Mackinac Center in Michigan and its counterparts in other states are all about.

He’s right: this is what think tanks like the Mackinac Center are all about. This tall tale is one cherished by such intellectual heavyweights as Rush Limaugh and John Stossle . Both of these scholars are a little vague on how the Pilgrims managed to be starving and still throw a big party, although some versions, like Reed’s, suggest the first Thanksgiving didn’t take place until after they reformed their economy.

Even though the Mackinac Center has been retelling this story since at least 2001, actual historians debunked it long ago. As a New York Times article explained:

Historians say that the settlers in Plymouth … did indeed agree to hold their property in common — William Bradford, the governor, referred to it in his writings as the “common course.” 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.

In fact, the first Thanksgiving took place before the common course was revised, and previous food shortages were due to the colonist’s inexperience growing corn that had been unknown to them in England.

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

Ignoring history and doing its part to repeat right wing myths is all in a day’s work for the Mackinac Center. After all, Reed used to run Mackinac’s Think Tank School, which franchised conservative think tanks nation-wide. As Reed says at the end of his piece:

Thank you, fellow free-market think tankers, for reminding our citizenry of what it means to live, work and govern ourselves in a free society.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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