Giving Thanks for Freedom

ThanksgivingToday most Americans will gather for a celebration that has become an American tradition that is very much worthy of extension.

Most of us experience more blessings than tribulation, especially in this country, and it is appropriate to give thanks for them (indeed, many traditions exhort us to give thanks for hard times as well), whether to God — as did the Pilgrims at Plimouth Plantation back in 1621 — or to whatever entity seems appropriate.

It’s interesting to remember, though, that however pleasant are the customs that have grown up around Thanksgiving, they bear little resemblance to what probably happened back in 1621.

Americans today typically gather considerable portions of their families together, eat turkey with all the trimmings, then, loaded with tryptophans, settle back to watch football or catch up on family news, and fall blissfully asleep. Some go for “gentle” Thanksgivings that don’t involve “murdering” turkeys. Some may go to church. Most spend at least a few moments thinking about the people and events for which they have reason to be thankful.

Food is important here, but the chief benefit is the gathering together.

Our modern customs were pioneered by one Sara Josepha Hale, editor of the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book in the 1850s. She filled her magazine with recipes and sometimes fanciful tales of the Pilgrims, and she convinced President Lincoln, in 1863, to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The Massachusetts settlers almost certainly didn’t eat turkey or potatoes of any kind. They had cranberries but no sugar. Pumpkin pies were unlikely in the absence of butter and flour. But two accounts remain of a three-day gathering, attended by 52 settlers and some 90 Wampanoag Indians. It is unclear, but unlikely, if it became an annual celebration until many years later.

Beyond mere survival, there wasn’t much to be thankful for in 1621. Beyond the birds shot by a hunting party, food was hardly plentiful. And thereby hangs a cautionary tale about social organization.

When they first arrived in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims operated on a “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” basis. According to Gov. William Bradford’s later account, “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing, or any other means” were placed in a common stock, from which each member of the colony could draw whatever he or she required. Not surprisingly, some colonists preferred to be layabouts.

After the scant harvest of 1622, wrote Bradford, “they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, to obtain a better crop.”

The remedy was to give each household a parcel of land and the freedom to raise as much as they wanted, keep what they needed, and trade it away as they saw fit.

Once that system was established, “any want or famine hath not been amongst them since this day.”

Whether you want to think on the shortcomings of a primitive form of socialism, give thanks for the blessings of your life or simply enjoy time with friends and family, we wish you and yours a cheerful and prosperous Thanksgiving.

Editor’s note: This editorial first appeared in the Orange County Register Nov. 23, 2006.

California bill would require double pay on Thanksgiving

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

As Californians start brining birds and mashing potatoes, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is again hoping to dish out meatier wages for Thanksgiving workers.

She plans to amend and revive stalled legislation guaranteeing double Thanksgiving pay so it would only apply to workers at large retail businesses that have more than 500 employees in California.

Earlier this year the Assembly rejected a version that would have covered more workers. Gonzalez said she hoped the amended version would fare better by focusing on big retailers.

For What Are Taxpayers Thankful in 2014?

“In this season of Thanksgiving, please don’t blame taxpayers if they are distracted by the injuries being perpetrated against them by our political class.”  These words were the preface of this column at the beginning of the holiday season in 2008 and, sadly, little has changed.  In fact, in many ways taxpayers are worse off now than they were then.

Six years ago, California’s tax burden was ranked 6th nationally.  Today we trail only New York as the worst state for taxpayers.   We now rank first in state sales tax, first in marginal income tax rates, first in gasoline tax and, even with Proposition 13, we rank in the top third in per capita property taxes.  Because Proposition 13 makes it harder for California to overtake New York as our nation’s number one taxpayer hell, one can expect new efforts by Sacramento politicians to undermine its protections in the new legislative session.

Some of our state leaders like to chirp happily about California’s declining unemployment rate, but only three states are worse off and our 7.3 percent rate is much higher than the national rate of 5.8 percent.  Still, all these figures are suspect because they do not count the discouraged who have stopped looking for work entirely.  And even those counted include many part-time workers for whom the best holiday gift would be finding fulltime employment.

Then there is the constantly growing, and largely ignored unfunded pension liability now estimated at several hundred billion. It stood at $6.3 billion just a decade ago.  As more government workers retire, this debt will come due and will have to be addressed by either reduced public services or tax increases or both.  The pressure for new revenue to support the retired workforce will provide an additional incentive to politicians to demolish Proposition 13’s taxpayer protections.

Nonetheless, while elected officials may be planning to put coal in taxpayers’ stockings as we approach Christmas, there are a few things for which we can all be grateful.

First is Proposition 13, which limits annual increases in property taxes and forces the tax raisers in the Legislature to get a two-thirds vote of their colleagues to raise state taxes.   We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association hear daily from those who are thankful for Proposition 13 and credit its most famous feature — limiting annual property tax increases to no more than 2 percent — for allowing them to keep their homes.

While during the session just passed, those favoring new taxes dominated the Legislature, the November election has turned out some fiscally irresponsible lawmakers and replaced them with some who understand the detrimental impact of new taxes on individual taxpayers and the overall economy, and who are likely to reject new taxes.  So taxpayers are grateful not only for Proposition 13 but for lawmakers who will defend their interests against great pressure for new taxes from special interests including public employee unions.

Taxpayers are also thankful for all individuals, regardless of party affiliation, who make the personal sacrifice to run for office and present their ideas to voters.  A functioning free republic relies on individuals who are willing to step into the arena, even in those instances where their chances of prevailing are small.

Finally, complaints against government at all levels are an American birthright.  But we are mindful that billions of souls around the world risk imprisonment or death for speaking out against their despotic governments or leaders.  So, in keeping with the season, let us be thankful that we live in a country that, despite her faults, remains the last, best hope for mankind.

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