What private property does -- as the Pilgrims discovered -- is connect effort to reward, creating an incentive for people to produce far more. Then, if there's a free market, people will trade their surpluses to others for the things they lack. Mutual exchange for mutual benefit makes the community richer.
Here's the biggest irony of all: The U.S. government has yet to apply the lesson to its first conquest: Native Americans. The U.S. government has held most Indian land in trust since the 19th century. This discourages initiative and risk-taking because, among other reasons, it can't be used as collateral for loans. On Indian reservations, "private land is 40 to 90 percent more productive than land owned through the Bureau of Indian Affairs," says economist Terry Anderson, executive director of PERC. "If you drive through western reservations, you will see on one side cultivated fields, irrigation, and on the other side, overgrazed pasture, run-down pastures and homes. One is a simple commons; the other side is private property. You have Indians on both sides. The important thing is someone owns one side."
Secure property rights are the key. When producers know their future products are safe from confiscation, they take risks and invest. But when they fear they will be deprived of the fruits of their labor, they will do as little as possible.
That's the lost lesson of Thanksgiving.