… is from pages 42-43 of Tom Bethell’s 1998 book, The Noblest Triumph:
This does suggest that a form of communism really was practiced at Plymouth in 1621 and 1622. No doubt this equalization of tasks was thought (at first) the only fair way to solve the problem of who should do what work in a community where there was to be no individual property: if everyone was to end up with an equal share of the property at the end of seven years, everyone should presumably do the same work throughout those seven years. The problem that inevitably arose was the formidable one of policing this division of labor. How to deal with those who did not pull their weight?
The Pilgrims had encountered what is called the free-rider problem. As we shall see, it was difficult to solve without dividing property into individual or family-sized units. And this was the course of action that William Bradford wisely took. It “had very good success” because it ensured that workers would reap the fruits of their industry, whether they worked much or little. This in turn made the system self-policing. All colonists were made responsible for their own behavior; family heads also assumed responsibility for the welfare of their own family members. In short, the division of property established a proportion or “ratio” between act and consequence. Human action is deprived of rationality without it, and work will decline as a result.