The article, “The Decline of the Plymouth County,” provided a fascinating account of religious intolerance and economic destruction. Murray Rothbard lucidly explains how Plymouth’s economic downturns were escalated by religious prejudice. The Quakers who arrived in Plymouth were treated cruelly at the hands of important dignitaries. Rothbard notes in his essay, ‘In 1659 six Quakers were banished and Governor Prence thundered that all Quakers deserved “to be destroyed, both they, their wives, and their children, without pity or mercy.”’ Most Pilgrims did not advocate for such harsh measures against the Quakers, instead many of the Pilgrims left their colony to be converted by the Quakers. Eventually, religious tolerance soon overcame the odds as ‘Town after town in Plymouth Colony eventually took it upon itself to grant full civil rights to the Quakers’.
However, there was one part of the article that significantly piqued my interest. Rothbard explains…
The introduction of a ‘state church supported by taxation’ initiated furor among the populace. But, why would this ever happen? I believe in religious tolerance, but it seems rather curious that a church would garner such dissenting opinions. I would argue that strictly based upon information that I have accumulated in the past, and not based on my opinions on the matter, the church felt that its property rights were being violated.
Private property rights are rights given to an individual to use the property as he/she sees fit (as long as the property does not harm another individual or another individual’s property). Property rights are extremely important for the well-being of an economy because prices can only be created through property rights. Only through prices can information pass through the economy (through supply and demand) on what to produce, how to produce it and for whom. For an example of the dangers of non-existent property rights, one has to look at the decimation of an economy that took place under the hands of communism.
Additionally, since property is scarce, laws must be formulated in order to maintain a just and prosperous society. Anything that is superabundant does not require any laws because everyone can utilize it forever. When scarcity is an issue, there must be a formation of laws in order to diffuse any conflict. Thus, private property rights are of paramount importance in order to reduce conflict for property. As Hans Hermann Hoppe explains:
“[O]nly because scarcity exists is there even a problem of formulating moral laws; insofar as goods are superabundant (“free” goods), no conflict over the use of goods is possible and no action-coordination is needed. Hence, it follows that any ethic, correctly conceived, must be formulated as a theory of property, i.e., a theory of the assignment of rights of exclusive control over scarce means. Because only then does it become possible to avoid otherwise inescapable and irresolvable conflict.”
A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (Pg. 235)
The people of Plymouth were angered by the introduction of the state church because it violated their private property rights;, namely how to spend their own money. There may have been people who believed in a different parish or deity and did not want their money to be spent on something they did not believe in. This violates their private property and makes it a public issue. Economist David Henderson clearly illustrates this problem in his essay, ‘How Property Rights Solve Problems’:
The progenitors of the church should have delved into their own pockets or asked for voluntary donations. The people of the parish, through subjective calculation, would determine the costs and the benefits of the new parish. If they believed the benefits of the parish overcame the costs, then they would donate some money to the cause. No one would cause a disruption because no one’s property right (money) was harmed.
Interestingly, the free rider effect may rear its ugly head in this situation because the new church would provide a public benefit to all who belong in the parish. There would be unscrupulous individuals who may not donate because they hope others will. If everyone were to think this way, then the church may never get the financial capital necessary. In this situation, I may count on believers of this parish thinking it a sin to free ride on others. But, otherwise, this could be a legitimate problem if the church was old and breaking down.
In the end, respecting private property rights would have created a better situation for Plymouth County. A state church, funded through taxation, may anger the populace who do not believe in its message. No respect for property rights will always attract grave conflicts that are best left to be read in history books.