We can find much to be thankful for as the season of Thanksgiving descends upon us.
Perhaps we could start by being thankful that our stock market is showing life and a little upward momentum, but maybe we should be more thankful that we even have a stock market. Many people consider the stock market a malignant casino, rigged to take all of their money. In fact, it embodies the very essence of what makes our capitalistic system work. It gives us a way to finance the business enterprises necessary to our way of life. It also gives us a place to share in the risks and rewards of an entrepreneurial market place.
While Thanksgiving has come to be a commercial waypoint between Halloween and Christmas for the retail industry, it actually has some deep historical roots in capitalism. Had it not been for early venture capitalists, we might never have come to know Thanksgiving as we know it today.
The Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America were fleeing religious persecution in their native England. In 1609, a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom of Holland. Presumably they learned a thing or two about capitalism from the Dutch, the preeminent capitalists of the time. After a few years, their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the Dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims. They considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat to their children’s education and morality.
They couldn’t leave Holland without money, so they approached an early group of English venture capitalists, the Merchant Adventurers, who agreed to finance their journey. In exchange, the Pilgrims would work for their backers for seven years. As any modern-day entrepreneur can tell you, the terms and conditions faced by those earlier counterparts were not much different than the situation today–money with strings attached!
The rest is history. On September 6, 1620, the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England, and landed at a place they named Plymouth Rock. The historical event we know today as the “First Thanksgiving” was a harvest festival held in 1621 by the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors and allies.
Thanksgiving has acquired significance beyond the bare historical facts. Without it to “officially” kick off the Christmas shopping season, economists would have nothing to theorize about, the stock market would have little to cheer for, school would go a full week instead of three days, all NFL games would be on Sunday, and only the turkey population would celebrate.
On a more serious note, as a nation we do have many reasons to be thankful. The original festivals of thanks were celebrated centuries ago by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese, to name a few, who gave thanks to various deities for bountiful harvests. We live in a great land, under a system of government that has endured for over two centuries, allowing us to use our many freedoms to improve our lives and those of others throughout the world. We are living longer and healthier lives because of the advances of medicine. We worship and speak as we please. We have the right to choose our leaders. And, we have the freedom to pick our own friends. Have a happy Thanksgiving, and remember to give a little thanks to some early venture capitalists!