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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Early Experiment in Centralization

Most often the communist debacle is set forth as an example of the disastrous effects of central planning. But there was an early British/American effort that should have served as a warning to all central planners. The following information is from Daniel J. Boorstin's The Colonial Experience, Part Three, "Victims of Philanthropy - The Settlers of Georgia."

The problems of Georgia colonists actually began with the Trustees of Georgia, primarily led by General James Oglethorpe and Lord Percival. Boorstin writes that "It would be hard to find another venture of 18th-century colonizing and empire-building whose leaders were more disinterested or more free of sordid motives." But that wasn't enough. The Georgia Charter was drawn up in 1732. Basically, poor British subjects, some of whom had criminal backgrounds, were to settle in the new colony of Georgia. The aim was to relieve England of having to take take care of those British subjects who were a burden and to use the colonists to defend the territory against enemies, i.e. the Indians, Spanish and French. As one of the Trustees' publications states, "England will grow rich by sending her Poor Abroad."

So what went wrong?

1- Trustees' Vision: Georgia's economy was supposed to be based on manufacturing silk.
Reality: Only the black (instead of the white variety) mulberry tree was common in Georgia and its leaves were not suitable for silkworms. Many of the silkworms perished.

2 - Trustees' Vision: 50 acres would be enough to support a family.
Reality: It wasn't. Some blamed the colonists for not working hard enough. However, the makeup of the early settlers chosen to colonize Georgia should have indicated that they might need more than the theoretical 50 acre-minimum they were alloted. The colonists were chosen precisely because they could not make a living in England. Their was no reason to think they would be super colonists.

3 - Trustees' Vision: Men can be induced to work hard even if it does not benefit their families. The Georgia Charter of 1732 stipulated that land was not salable nor divisible and could only be inherited by a male heir.
Reality: Since the land reverted to the Trustees if there was no suitable heir, many saw no
point in working hard to develop their land.

4 - Trustees' Vision: The allocation of resources by micromanagement from thousands of miles away would be an efficient way of provisioning the colonists. The colonists were supported with donations from English charitable organizations and subsidies from the British Government (the only colony to receive such help for non-military purposes). The paternalistic rule of the colony can be glimpsed from the "Rules for the year 1735" which lists the supplies colonizers of a new Georgia town will receive.
Reality: The colonists simply demanded more and more assistance. They developed neither the political skills of self-government nor economic initiative. Eventually the Trustees concluded that the poor "who had been useless in England, were inclined to be useless in Georgia likewise." That seems rather harsh since the Trustees created many of the problems faced by the colonists.

The Upshot? - Many simply decided to leave Georgia for another colony.

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