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John Butman: New World, Inc.

From its start, resources have driven America's fortunes
Sunday, March 25, 2018, 6:23 PM

We all learned in grade school that the Pilgrims sailed to North America to escape religious persecution.

That's wasn't necessarily the case, explains author John Butman. At least, it certainly isn't the whole story.

In fact, the Pilgrim's voyage to the New World was a seventeenth-century entrepreneurial start-up. It was funded by nearly one hundred investors, who expected a profit on their contributed capital.

This fascinating re-visitation of the origins of America, told in full in Butman's book New World, Inc., highlights how nearly every human endeavor throughout history has been rooted in gaining or maintaining access to resources.

Of course, back in the days of the Pilgrims, there were only about 0.5 billion humans on the Earth. As we write about on this site, resources are likely to play an even more influential role in the future as the planet goes from 7.5 billion souls today to 10 billion by 2050...

By the 1500s, England's main export was woolen cloth, mostly to continental Europe. But in 1550, for a number of reasons, the bottom fell out of the market and they weren't selling enough, The merchants and the leading business people of the day,were very gravely concerned about the economics of the country. Population was on the rise at that point and there was a strong divide between the Gentry and the common people. And as the economics got worse, the social situation got very tricky, and there was really severe social unrest. So there was a real need to find new sources of revenue, new sources of jobs -- and so that's what directed their focus overseas.

After 1600, there were many ventures to America. At first, they'd simply send ships over to America leaving early in the spring, ultimately March or April – the trip would take six to eight weeks. The plan was trade with the Indians for certain commodities like fish, furs and sassafras (which was a very prized herb, it was thought to cure almost everything), and then fill up the hull of their ships, get back, sell the goods in England and on the continent, and make a profit. But they discovered that it was just not sustainable. It was just too risky: on any given trip when sailing over to America, you couldn't be sure that you would get enough of what you needed to return with.

And so they realized they needed to establish settlements. They had to put people on the ground who would operate the business and obtain the goods. The ships would just be distribution: sailing over to pick up the stockpiles and then return to England. This idea of settlement orignated.

So Thomas Weston put together a group of seventy investors to put in money to fund the Pilgrims. They raised, we don’t really know how much money was raised, at least 1500 pounds (ssome claim as much as 7,000 pounds). So the Pilgrim's voyage to the New World was a funded venture, expected to be profitable (which took them a long time to become, in the end.

You have look at this whole process of America's settlement as one big startup. There was tremendous trial and error. There was so much failure along the way. It was just constant. The merchants who were putting money into these ventures had a diversified portfolio, so American development was really the higher risk part of it. They had other ventures and other investments -- in fishing, in continuing to sell cloth on the continent, and so on. These business went up and down. so they rarely put all their money into America's development. It was just too risky.

But over seventy years, it worked. They learned a lot. They learned how to organize a settlement, how to make it sustainable, how to resupply it. They also got better at figuring out the cost per person. So they got better at understanding what the true costs and risks were, and kept iterating and improving the model. Just as what happens in modern investing today.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with John Butman (40m:27s).

Transcript: 

Chris: Welcome, everyone, to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson, and today is March 20, 2018. Now, human population has exploded over the past 300 years. In 1600, it's estimated that around 550 million humans walked the face of the planet. It was clearly a different world back then with resources seemingly in unlimited supplies. But, even then, people were packed tightly enough that local resources were unable to fully support everyone, and many dreamed of riches elsewhere. One popular narrative has it that a plucky band of pilgrims from England fled to America, where they set up shop. As the joke goes, they were seeking greater religious restrictions for themselves than could be imposed under the King's law.

Everyone in the American school system, including myself, learned the tale. Three ships, led by the Mayflower, came over and started the colonization project. Well, I often say, in order to know where you are you have to know where you came from. Here to rewrite this engaging part of history with us is John Butman, who, along with Simon Targett, coauthored the recently released book, New World, Inc. John is an American writer with several books under his own name and over thirty collaborations, including New York Times and Boston Globe best sellers. Welcome to the program, John.

John Butman: Thank you, Chris. Thanks very much for having me.

Chris: Well, John, I have it on very good authority from Mrs. Johnson, who taught me in the second grade, that it was indeed the Pilgrims who were indeed the earliest founders of white settlement in American. Does that need revising?

John Butman: Well, it does need revising. I should first say that there's only one ship that came over. It was just the Mayflower. Ships came later, but in that first one that came in November 1620, it was just that one. But, apart from that, yeah, what we say in our book is that really the whole development of American, European American – obviously there was a civilization before the Europeans got here, the Indians, - but starting in about 1550, as you said earlier in your setup, resources in England were scarce. And they were in economic, political, and social crisis, and seeking some solutions to that crisis.

And so they started looking for new markets beyond continental Europe. And they first set their sights on China, and they said, let's see if we can sell our main product, which was wool and cloth, in China. But their routes to get there were limited because the Spanish were dominant in Europe, and they had essentially divided the world between Spain and Portugal, so the English couldn’t really sail south. So they decided they would try to sail North and go through the passage the called the Northeast Passage to China which is essentially sailing across the upper margin of Russia to get to China. So, to make a long story short, that didn't work out. They couldn’t get through the passage. They ended up in Russia where they actually did open a market. But that was the beginning of this seventy-year process, an unending chain of commercial ventures that eventually kind of inexorably headed them towards America and settlement.

Chris: Now, at this time, so you say, resources are short. I'd love to get a more complete description of really how crowded it was. But they had one export, wool and cloth, that was really the product that they had in abundance that they were looking to hopefully trade?

John Butman: That was their main export - was wool and cloth. They started with raw wool, so unwoven wool, and they then had developed woolen cloth, and that was the major export. And they mostly exported it to continental Europe. But in 1550, for a number of reason, the bottom fell out of the market, and they weren't selling enough, and they were in – the merchants, the leading business people of the day – were very gravely concerned about the economics of the country. Population was on the rise at that point, and there was a strong divide between the gentry and the common people. And as the economics got worse, the social situation got very tricky, and there was really severe social unrest. So there was a real sense of we need to find new sources of revenue, new sources of jobs, and so that's what sent them overseas.

Chris: All right. So first, they bumped around trying to go North. Couldn't go South. Spain and Portugal have that all locked up. When is the first sort of foray to attempt to go to the West? When does that start?

John Butman: So in 1576 they said, so this is twenty-five years after the voyage that ended up in Moscow, they said, let's try again to go west. Because they'd actually gone west earlier in 1497 and gotten as far as the islands around Newfoundland. So they felt they had some rights to this part of the world. So a guy named Martin Frobisher, whose name you may have heard, he was kind of an adventurer, mariner, backed by a number of courtiers and merchants put together a voyage to go west, went to the Northwest passage. Again, they were trying to get to China, and they didn’t get that far. They got to the islands again north of Newfoundland. They thought they found the entry to the Northwest passage. There was almost a mutiny. The men did not want to keep going. It was very difficult situation.

But they picked up a rock on the island and brought it back home. And somebody threw it in fire, it started to glisten, and they thought, oh my God, we found gold. So, at the time, the Spanish were bringing back a fortune in gold and silver from Mexico and South America, and the English were very jealous of this and they were looking for some sort of jackpot source of revenue. So the black rock came back, they thought, oh my God, we found gold, and began this process of trying to assay the rock, which that process was not very well understood at the time.

But immediately, with the idea that maybe there is gold, put together a second voyage, and they sailed off and brought back tons of rock. And even before they knew what the results were of the second voyage, they sent out a third voyage and brought back even tons more rock. In the end, it all proved to be fools gold. There was no money there, and it was incredibly embarrassing and deeply disappointing. They lost all their money. And so they really, at that point, gave up on the idea of trying to find metals. But they began to say, there's got to be something there. And the major resource in America, which they began to understand, was land, just a huge quantity of land.

Chris: Now, was is actually fool's gold?

John Butman: It was. Yeah. It was some kind of friable, breakable rock that had a little bit of glisten in it, but we don’t really know. There's actually a piece of the rock still existing. I forget where it is, but it's in a museum in England, so you can take a look at it. But it was this extraordinary episode where the entire country was caught up in this gold fever. Queen Elizabeth I invested in it, and they really thought this is going to make our fortune. Terribly embarrassing. The Spanish are watching the whole thing and kind of laughing at them.

Chris: All right. You said they lost all their money. How did that work at that point in time? It's not cheap, of course, to build a ship. And then, of course, you’ve got to outfit it, and you’ve got to get a crew. How did that actually work? what was the process?

John Butman: You mean how did you raise the money?

Chris: Yeah. What was the…how did that work?

John Butman: That's where this first voyage in 1553 was put together by one of the first joint stock companies in the world, and certainly the first in England. And it was basically a subscription. You're selling shares. So for 25 pounds you can buy a share of this venture, and they raised 6,000 pounds for this first voyage in 1553. And they built three ships from scratch. They hired all the men, and off they went. So it was a company that was basically formed to share the risk because it's incredibly risky. They didn't know really where they were headed, what the route was going to be, what the results would be, so no single person, including the Queen, could afford to fund such a venture.

So that one became the model for almost all these ventures in this period, 1550 to 1620. You had a number of investors. You often had a lead investor of some kind. It would be a courtier or a leading merchant that would put in sort of seed money or a major chunk. You always had a large number of investors who shared the risk.

Chris: All right, now, John, where do the Pilgrims come into this story? I'm not hearing anything about Pilgrims yet.

John Butman: Okay. So then gradually, they began to realize that after 1600, there were many ventures to America. And they thought at first, what we can do is send ships over leaving early in the spring, usually March or April, get over to America – it would take six to eight weeks to get here – they would then go after certain commodity which would be fish or furs usually traded with the Indians, sassafras which was a very prized herb; it was thought to cure almost everything, and then we'll fill up the hull of our ships, we'll get back, we'll sell the material, we'll sell the goods in England and on the continent, and we'll make a profit. But they discovered that it was just not sustainable. It was just too risky that to sail over, you couldn't bring enough back, you couldn't be sure that you would get what you needed.

And so they said, we really have to establish settlements. We have to put people on the ground who can be operating the business and be preparing goods, so the ships can just come and get them and be distributors. So this idea of settlement, you know, came in. And that was the idea behind the Roanoke settlement which is 1584. That's Walter Raleigh, he's saying, we have to go settle. That didn't work out. But after 1600 the idea of settlement became sort of the dominant idea. So the Pilgrim's get into this settlement idea. 1607 Jamestown is founded, and it's through a lot of struggles and a lot of difficulties and a lot of conflict with Indians continued and found its great product, which was tobacco.

So around 1617 there started to a sort of colonial rush. So we had the French in Canada and Western Maine, and you had the Dutch who were preparing to come into the New York area, and you had the Spanish farther south. And suddenly there's this kind of land rush for America and the idea that the only way to claim land was to settle there and have people there who could build a lasting establishment. So that's how the Pilgrim's get into this whole thing. And what's odd about them is they're very, very different from any other settlement. There was no royal backing. There was no well-known courtier. There was no leading merchant involved.

But there was such interest in developing America at that point that they managed to hook up with a – I should say they managed to create a company with a kind of second-tier entrepreneur. His name is Thomas Weston. He put together a group of seventy investors to put in money to fund the Pilgrims. And the idea was they were going to do what everybody else had done, what all these other ventures had done. They'd come over. They would trade for fur. They would collect sassafras. They would collect timber, perhaps. They would fish, and they would be self-sustaining, and they would be profitable. They didn't really have a business plan. They didn't really know how they're going to make this money. And really the Pilgrim's, the people who came over weren't called Pilgrims at the time, had very little business experience. They worked in cloth and they’d worked in farming, but they were not entrepreneurs.

But these investors thought we want to get in on this deal. And so they raised, we don’t really know how much money was raised, at least 1500 pounds, maybe as much as 7,000 pounds, which is unlikely, but there are lots of estimates. So they were funded. They were a funded venture, and they were supposed to be a profit-making venture, which took them a long time to make a profit.

Chris: It sounds like the modern-day version of this would be people out in Silicon Valley that are trying to make the next killer app. I mean, this is risk, it's putting capital up, it's being taken by this idea, not really being totally clear if the idea is actually going to work out. When the dust settles there were a few good ideas in there, but boy, there were a bunch of mistakes made by a bunch of people too, right?

John Butman: Yeah, absolutely. You have to sort of look at this whole process as one big startup of America because there was tremendous trial and error. There was so much failure along the way. There was just constant failure. And usually what happens is the merchants who were putting money into these ventures had a diversified portfolio, so American development was really the higher risk part of it. And so they would have other ventures and other investments in fishing, in – they continued to sell cloth on the continent and that business went up and down – but so they rarely put all their money into American develop. It was just too risky.

But over seventy years it worked. And they learned a lot. They learned about how to organize a settlement, how to make it sustainable, how you had to resupply it, and they also got better at figuring out sort of the cost per person. So if you did the one-off trading venture, it was sort of a cost-per-mariner, and they worked out the cost per settler was way higher than cost per mariner. So they started to sort of figure out what the costs were and what the risks were.

Chris: It's interesting. You know, a while back I interviewed Daron Acemoglu, the author of Why Nations Fail. In there, he was looking at the institutional inputs that they create, you know, why one place is considered a successful nation versus another. He had a really interesting take of this subject of the early colonization of America. I'd like to get your reflection of that to help us and my listeners continue – we want to build our understanding of why we are the way we are.

And first, he outlined that all the action was in the South where the Spaniards and the Portuguese, they had this model, enormous success, raiding and plundering these dense societies in Latin And South America. And then, but that model really did not replicate well up North for a variety of reasons, in large measure because the Native populations were structured differently, less inclined to roll over. Here's what he said about the Virginia Company:

"Look, these guys are doing what the Spaniards did, and they're going to make money just like the Spanish crown did, so we want to have a piece of it. And then the Virginia Company gets these funds, sends three ships to the North of the United States and it turns out they had targeted Jamestown which is an island off Virginia that seemed like a good place to start. But things didn't work out that way because they couldn't find anybody to do the work for them. So their model was to go and overpower whoever we're going to find, just like the Spaniards overpowered the Aztecs or the Incas and put them to work, take their gold and silver. But more importantly, as you said, make them work for your benefit. Well, there's nobody there or there's only or there's only these hunter/gatherers, very sparsely settle mobile Indians, and they're not going to do your bidding for you, so there's an impasse.

So they come up with the idea of bringing people from Europe. And there's lots of poor people in Europe at the time. This is before the industrial revolution. Population is increasing, not much more productivity. So they collect people – it's a costly voyage for them – they bring them there. They're going to be in the lower strata of society, they're doing the production for the benefits of the governors and the soldiers and the elite of the Jamestown colony and the owners of the Virginia Company. But those people that came in, as soon as they say, no, no, we're not going to be repressed like this, and they start running to the Indians or they just start going off by themselves, and that's when Virginia Company realizes, look, we're just not going to be able to replicate what the Spaniards did because the conditions in the North are different than the South. The population density and the complex civilizations that could take over are not there, and that's when they throw in the towel and introduce things like private property rites and general assemblies that I hinted at before."

John, I'd love to get your take on that. Daron makes it sound like there was a model that the Spaniards had proven. In some ways, like many startups, you say, hey let's fashion this off what's already worked. But that model, obviously didn't work.

John Butman: Well, that is very interesting because – for a number of reasons – first of all, there's no evidence that I know of that says the English merchants intended to subjugate the local populations. I don’t think they really said we want to be like the Spanish for a number of reasons. There was one – one is that they had a very different sort of moral view of these populations. Although the Jamestown people had skirmishes with the Indians, there was never any sense of, that I know of, that we're going to put them to work for us. That was just not part of the business plan for them.

In fact, in the early days in Roanoke, they brought over a number of workers, as you say, lower strata of society, but also a number of aristocrats came, and they found the aristocrats were not very good at settlements because they were not used to doing hard labor and regular work. They expected everybody to be servants to them. But they didn't try to employ the Indians or subjugate the Indians. Yes, they fought with them, but as far as I know, that was not their model. So that's kind of surprising to me. Certainly, with the Pilgrim's, they really worked hard to try to establish good relationships with the Indians, and one of the reasons for that was there were well-established trade routes and trade relationships throughout the Northeast, and they wanted to tap into those relationships. So they wanted to trade with them, but not make the Indians work for them.

And you know, the famous story is that, of course, the Pilgrim's had a very tough first winter, lost about half their population. And then, out of the woods, comes this Indian named Tisquantum, known as Squanto, who had actually been in Europe actually for about five years and could speak English, and had lost a lot of his people to disease in New England. So he's the one that sort of helped them understand how to grow crops and served as a go between interlocutor, ambassador between the Indians and the Pilgrims. So I don’t think that they ever had in their mind – I think the English, in general, did not have in their mind we want to replicate what the Spanish have done. In fact, they reviled the Spanish, and they did not support or believe in this kind of mass murder that the Spanish engaged in.

Chris: Yeah, that's fascinating because the story of the Spaniards and Columbus and all that is really dark. And so there was, at the time, a moral aversion to that, you think?

John Butman: Yeah, absolutely. I think the English thought of themselves as better, morally better. They would not engage in that kind of behavior. Now, they did, they kidnapped Indians. They brought them back to England. They treated them, you know, relatively well. Of course, it was kidnapping, so you know, within the context of kidnapping they treated the Indians quite well. And, in fact, Squanto was – it's a long story – but Squanto was captured by a kind of a rogue captain who had come with John Smith to go whale hunting in New England. That didn't work out because they couldn't figure out how to catch whales, so John Smith went off and maps New England.

But this Captain Thomas Hunt kidnapped twenty-seven Indians and took them to Spain to sell as slaves, and one of the Indians was Squanto. There was such a strong sense in Spain of shame, that Spain had engaged in such horrible acts of subjugation throughout the West Indies and South America and Mexico that there was a strong pushback to the slave market. So a group of Friars came and rescued some of these Indians, including Squanto. And he ended up staying in Europe for several years and learning English and then being brought back to America by an English venture. So there was also this kind of – even if they captured the Indians, they often brought them back and returned them to America. So they had this very different sense of what the relationship ought to be.

Chris: That's fascinating. So this, really then, your book is telling a tale of mercantilism. This is, you know, we've got a continent, it's full, looking for outlets at this point in time. Obviously, the Industrial Revolution hasn't started. Coal hasn't even really come into widespread introduction at this time. And their model had such low productivity, I guess you needed places for people to go. The rest of the world was kind of already, surprisingly, full at that point in time, at least in terms of who owned the seas and where you could go. I mean, from our standards it would be practically barren. But back then, it must have seemed that West was the only place to go, and so they came as a business venture.

John Butman: Yeah. What happened was, in 1604, a treaty of peace was signed between England and Spain, and this suddenly opened up America. Because before that the English had been very worried about sort of treading on Spanish toes, and there were enough incidents of getting tricky with the Spanish that they didn't want to do that. But after the peace was declared and this peace treaty was signed, they felt freer to go to America and claim territory there. So that changed.

But also what happened was, because conflict with Spain was now effectively over, a huge number of soldiers, English soldiers, came back from the continent to England, and they had nothing to do. They had no work. And so the leading merchants were very concerned about what would happen when the population was suddenly flooded with all these soldiers looking for work, and they were concerned, incidentally, to increase crime, to crowding, to unemployment, all that sort of thing, and more unrest as they had seen in the 1550s. And so that was another reason for settling in America was to give another place, another opportunity for these people.

But you know, the Pilgrim's, they were in Holland at this time. They were in Leighton, and their major issue was they couldn't make a living there. So if you read William Bradford, who was their governor, their second governor, and wrote the classic work Of Plymouth Plantation, he lists the reasons that they came to – that they wanted to come to America. They actually considered other places to go. They were given an offer by the Dutch to come to New York. They could have resettled elsewhere in Europe, but they decided to come here. And the number one reason was they weren't making it economically. They felt their jobs weren't secure, and they could never really rise above their current station, which was okay but not really promising. And so that was the number one reason. What's odd is they didn't really know how they were going to do that. They just had sort of faith that they could do it.

Chris: Now, that's interesting, John. So today, the world is pretty much full to the brim. Every dark corner is explored, even the deepest wilderness today is stressed by human impact. So your book and what you're saying here exposes the possibility that at least some of us are kind of born adventurers. What do these people do now with these instincts?

John Butman: Well, you know, so we do make this parallel between these merchant adventurers of the 16th century and early 17th century to our modern-day entrepreneurs. And you can really argue that Elon Musk is very similar to these guys. And because England, in 1550s, really felt it was in existential crises, that England was in danger of disappearing, being swallowed up, being conquered, losing its vitality, you know, losing its presence as a society. And Musk is saying he really feels like the earth has so many problems socially, economically, politically, that we need to find a new place. We have to become what he calls interplanetary. So the entrepreneurs in the 1550s were pushing off to the completely unknown, almost completely unknown, territory. Musk is doing almost the same thing. It's' incredibly high risk, incredibly filled with unknowns. It's going to take a lot of trial and error. So there's a lot of similarity there, trying to find a whole new world, you know.

Chris: Well, then, how much does this entrepreneurial – so here's what I know as an entrepreneur. You got to fail early, fail often. You have to surround yourself with the best people because you can't know everything. You're going to make mistakes, but you got to learn from them. And that you want to get through your mistakes as quickly as possible, rather than try to avoid them because you're going to make them. So how much of that sort of trial and error became the infusion that led to America being such a dynamic sort of risk taking enterprise throughout most of its history?

John Butman: I really think that the English learned that through this process. This is not something they knew before because all the models they had before they started to go overseas with these ventures, you know, they were basically military models. So they understood how to go wage battle. They were political models, and they were religious models. But they really had no model of this kind of risk taking entrepreneurship. So they had to figure it out.

And you know, they had to understand that it was okay to fail. In fact, you had to fail. If you didn't try something that caused you to fail, you probably weren't pushing hard enough. So just that very idea that failure is part of the process, they had to accept that. So that really had not been part of the business world before that. You know, they always tried to fix things, so if the market fell out, if the market got bad on the continent they would try to fix it through various things like trade relationships, manipulating the currency, etc., so it wasn't a kind of failure.

But these are ventures that are really high profile, everybody's watching, high risk, life and death. I mean, a lot of people lost their lives and a lot of people lost their livelihoods in these things. And they came to understand that was part of the deal. So that's sort of one big learning, and I think that's completely infused into who we are today. You know, you talk to Europeans now, in general they say America accepts failure. They even prize failure. So I think that's certainly part of our character, and I think it really comes from this period.

Chris: Now, along the way there must have been, you uncovered as well, there must have been enough successes to keep this all going. What were some of the success stories in here?

John Butman: You know, it's interesting. There were a couple of success stories that weren't exactly about settlement. But one of the obvious ones is that Francis Drake went off on a circumnavigation of the world. And he came back with having, first of all, circumnavigated which is a major accomplishment, but he also saw the West Coast of America, and he said here's a huge chunk of land we could go for. But he also came back with his hull filled with gold and treasure. It basically had been plundered from Spanish ships and other ships. But it gave the English this tremendous sense of oh, we can do this, we can go off and – there is a jackpot out there. Now, it was never replicated. No one ever did that again to that degree. But it gave them a sense of we can succeed. There is this possibility of making a lot of money, getting rich quick. So that's part of it.

And then I think there was just this, you know, you have to really accept a big element of imagination and hope and sort of belief and promotional will, if you will. So there was this small number of people that had this idea that America could be something fantastic, a new society, a whole new world. And that really started with Thomas Moore, who wrote the book Utopia. And that first came out in 1516, I believe. It was republished around 1550, and it started people thinking about it could be a whole new place across the sea. We can kind of remake society, have a whole new social order and great prosperity and some kind of equality. So this idea really got, it inflamed people and said this is something we can do. This is fantastic hope.

So, for all the failure, there was always still this real sense of we can achieve something really extraordinary. Plus it was just good old desire for glory. There was a lot of guys who just wanted to go out there and achieve something amazing and become famous, which they did. So there was enough of that that kept people going. So, you know, there was just enough return in terms of money, in terms of glory, and then driven by this big sense of imagination and hope that kept them all going.

Chris: Oh, John, very well said. In fact, as I listen to you I was thinking of Elon Musk because he said something very similar which is, hey, if we go to Mars we get to reinvent all sorts of things, it will be governed differently, a lot of that hope which says we can restart and reboot this, and we'll take what we know, but we'll make it better. Which also, to flip it around, for the rest of us who don't get to go to Mars, there's this other idea which is, boy, once you get full up and your institutions become entrenched, if not sclerotic, it just seems easier to go somewhere else then to reform all of that.

John Butman: [Laughter] Yeah, I think that's totally true. And what's really interesting is that the three guys who were the most powerful advocates for American development never came to America. So it was all in their minds. And they were great promoters and motivators. So the first one is Thomas Moore, who didn’t really think of America, but he thought of overseas somewhere, you know, somewhere to the West. Then there was Walter Raleigh who, he was really the first one to say let's go settle over there and organize Roanoke, but he never came largely because Queen Elizabeth - one, she didn't want him to leave, she liked him too much. And then the third guy was this guy Richard Hakluyt who became sort of the great chronicler of English overseas venturing, and he wrote enormous books called Principle Navigations which was, in effect, a huge motivational, promotional tract about England's great exploits overseas. And he was the number one promoter of American development. He called it planting. And he never came. He had two chances to come, but he said, nah, I don’t think I can go right now. So it was these three guys who imagined America, but never came, who were, you know, in large part responsible for England's desire to come over here.

Chris: Well, it's fascinating to think about that important element of having meaning and purpose and hope and a sense of a place to go. And as I tour through some of the things that people are struggling with today, they're lacking all three of those things. They don’t have a clear sense of direction. Meaning and purpose are often not found in the jobs that they have, so in many cases I see the parallels here, which that is, you know, London in the 1500s had a sort of bleakness to it for a certain segment of the population who were like I'd rather be doing something else, I'll take a risk. That may not be all that dissimilar from something stuck in a minimum wage job today, only there's nobody coming along, except for maybe Elon, saying let's go somewhere else. Let's do this.

John Butman: Yeah, yeah. I think that's true. I mean, of course, I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture because things were kind of bleak, and it was very tough over here. And a lot of people came over and said I'm not saying here. Get me back on the first ship out of here because it was tough. And that is why, in the quote you read, you know, that once they got here, and this is true of the Pilgrim's and also true in Jamestown, that the organizers and the leaders of these settlements discovered we have to give people a share in the benefits, a share in the profits. They have to be able to own their own land. They have to be able to improve themselves. They have to have representation. They have to have a voice in this whole process. We have to think about the total social good. So once they got here they realized they couldn't just be about profit. It couldn't just be about these organizers running the show. It had to have a strong social purpose. And people had to be able to gain for themselves. So this is sort of the beginning of the American dream.

Chris: Fascinating. So, John, final question. What drew you to write this book?

John Butman: Well, that's an interesting question. My family, we are among the, I think it's like 30 million Americans who are related to Mayflower people. So it's like no great distinction, you know, because a lot of us go back to the Mayflower. So in family, there's always been sort of a sense of history and always known, always surprised, when people say they don’t know who their relatives are. My family's constantly talking about their relatives going back to early days. So I've always been intrigued by that history of how we got here.

And then, I was doing some work on some other topic, and I kept bumping into names of people involved with the Pilgrim's early on that I'd never heard of before. And one of them was this fellow named Sir Fernando Gorgeous, incredible name, and it turns out he was one of these guys who was organizing ventures. And this led me to look into this whole issue further. I discovered the Pilgrim's were a very different organization than I had learned and that I thought they were. So that led me to explore further.

Chris: Good old curiosity. Absolutely, John. Well, listen, best of luck with New World, Inc. We all hope it's a raging success for you. It's on Amazon right now, I understand. How else can people follow you and your work?

John Butman: Well, you know, my coauthor, Simon Targett, who is a Brit, so we're kind of an Anglo-American collaboration, which is kind of cool because we both, we have very different views of this, we're on Twitter, we're on LinkedIn, so we're not hard to find.

Chris: Well, very good. John, thank you so much for you time today.

John Butman: Thank you, Chris, it was really interesting. Great questions. Thank you.

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17 Comments

Stabu's picture
Stabu
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 7 2011
Posts: 110
Didn't Get Much Out of This One

Since no-one has said a word about this Featured Voices yet, I guess I'll start. While there has been a few topics on Featured Voices before that I couldn't get much out of (if anything), such as the discussion with Teal Swan, I always felt that those were mostly due to the lack of my own understanding/capability of understanding the whole being part in this story. In this John Butman discussion, however, the problem was that I didn't really think he had much to say. The point seemed to be "humans go where there are resources", which is pretty obvious to this crowd (but almost completely alien to the mainstream). This was probably not particularly constructive feedback, but I thought I'd utter it nonetheless for the sake of starting a conversation.

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
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Posts: 522
I thought the take-away was

I thought the take-away was that the quest for new resources is usually branded as something more glamorous than it actually is. I thought it was good; not all interviews have to be hard hitting.

Terry L's picture
Terry L
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Posts: 17
'Twas very appreciated by this member

This podcast turned out to be much more worth my time than I expected.

I appreciated:

  • The much more accurate (I believe) story of the colonization of North America
  • The reminder to me that the history we are taught (force-fed?) in school and the media is likely to be the history that the dominant players benefit from us accepting
  • The differing views between this guest and the excerpt from a prior guest that Chris played, being another reminder to not uncritically accept any particular point of view (wouldn't it be interesting to have both of them on to discuss their differences?)

Thanks Chris & Adam for providing this podcast! And my thanks to John Butman, too.

Terry L

P.S. I was amused to hear that my having an ancestor (two, actually) who came over on the Mayflower is something that I share with "only" 36 million other Americans!  Woohoo - Let's have a Meetup ;)

PaulJam's picture
PaulJam
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Posts: 75
points desperately need more amplification

Maybe not hard hitting, but the contains a profound question which can hardly be found elsewhere, and needs to be repeated as often as possible: what happens when we run out of new places to colonize.  Even if we can colonize Mars (which I'm skeptical of), this option will only be available to handful of people.  The other billions left here on earth will have to contend with the fact that western growth economies have literally run out of room.  It will be a complete train wreck of suffering if you consider human well-being composed of equal parts of meaning, connection, and lack of material poverty.

Stabu's picture
Stabu
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Posts: 110
Colonizing Mars

I must confess that colonizing Mars is a neat idea, but the combination of the dryness of the Atacama desert, temperatures of Antarctica, and the distance of being more than 200 times farther from Earth than the moon makes this neat idea completely impractical.

Uncletommy's picture
Uncletommy
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Posts: 634
Protecting your ass(ets).

As a descendant of German peasants from the 1600's, I am pretty familiar with the main reasons people emigrate, no matter what your situation:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/russians-malta-oligarchs-rich-citizenship-1.4483144  

Probably explains a lot about what's going on in the world. My slice of the pie?

richcabot's picture
richcabot
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Posts: 226
Defecting to the Indians

I recall in Howard Zinn's "A Peoples History of the United States" he mentioned that the Pilgrims had a serious problem with settlers leaving to go live with the Indians.  It was such a problem that it became a capital offense.  I wonder if it wasn't related to the view of settlers as being an investment that needed to be protected rather than outrage at their wanting to live with "heathens".  

Mohammed Mast's picture
Mohammed Mast
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Posts: 198
Mars

Colonizing Mars is about as stupid as it gets. Why not focus on getting this right here? Even if it is feasible (which I seriously doubt) why export our messes to the rest of the solar system. I have a dim memory of a quote that goes something like this " whether man dives to the bottom of the deepest oceans or travels to the farthest regions of the universe he will find himself just as he is." 

Terry L's picture
Terry L
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Posts: 17
Earth First...

... We'll strip mine the other planets later

(a bumper sticker)

P.S. Obviously I totally agree that attempting to "colonize" Mars is nuts!

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
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Posts: 522
At the risk if going off on a

At the risk if going off on a rant, colonizing Mars is the stupidest idea I've ever heard. Well, not really, but pretty far up there.

Firstly, there's the problem that those who want to go there won't even admit the reason why humanity is failing on Earth: population growth and economic growth.

Then there's the basic physical problems. Mars has essentially no atmosphere. You die within 10 seconds of walking outside. So you would need to walk around in a space suit all the time. All human infrastructure would need to be in pressure-tight buildings. That's not a trivial thing to design and build, for sizable structures.

I recall reading an article where they were saying that for The Martian movie with Matt Damon they took the script to NASA to review to make sure it didn't have obvious scientific errors. Well even NASA missed one because there is the scene where his bulkhead blows out and he patches the hole with a tarp and duct tape. Unfortunately, at 14 psi that 7 foot diameter hole is going to be exerting 78,000 pounds of force on that tarp. Must be a strong tarp...

The problem is this: to survive on Mars would require highly advanced technology. To maintain and grow the colonies would require even more advanced technology. But the catch is you need to have a global economy like on Earth to manufacture that technology. People seem to have no concept of what it takes to manufacture high technology, and the greater economy that it must be a part of to drive it based on mass production and economies of scale. A few thousand people living there wouldn't be much more "productive" than the early American settlers trying to compete in todays' world. You'd need millions and millions of people there to be able to build an economy capable of building the infrastructure (you can't build an IC chip with a soldering iron). That's the Catch 22, because you can't support millions of people without tons high tech infrastructure, which therefore must all come from Earth. And we are soon going to have problems of our own making thousands of cargo trips to Mars a little unrealistic...

And where is the energy going to come from? Will they bring a thorium reactor over there? Great, but how are they going to get more energy beyond that thorium reactor? Build it over there? With what resources?

Will the energy come from solar panels? Well we just heard about them in another article. Who is going to make them?

Are they going to "terraform" and build an atmosphere to live in? Huh?!?!?!? We can't even keep CO2 in check on Earth (0.04% of the atmosphere). So basically, the entirety of the history of human industry has only changed the atmosphere by about 0.02%. And some colonies are going to create an entire atmosphere???? Its absurd.

And then there's the radiation, which our planet does a good job of shielding us from.

itse ye ye's picture
itse ye ye
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Posts: 4
John Butman , newworld inc.

Great interview.having just read the book"1491" by Charles mann , I found the discussion interesting."1491" looks at what people were here and what they were doing,how they lived,etc., Before and after the arrival of Europeans.ill probably read "new world inc." It's interesting to look at the colonization of the Americas through the lens of the three "E" s. European nations ,low on resources, mired in debt, go looking for a fresh start.They sail west.after a rocky start,it's the same exponential growth all over again.malthus is right again.

Michael_Rudmin's picture
Michael_Rudmin
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Posts: 922
I agree Mars is a no-brainer

That said, if you want to colonize mars, the obvious starting point is to colonize the moon; and if you want to colonize the moon, the obvious starting point is to send bots to do a lot of the early work remotely.

That eliminates waste problems.

And you can handle the radiation by going underground.

SingleSpeak's picture
SingleSpeak
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
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Posts: 507
With Amazon Prime

2-day free-shipping (from Earth), most of the problems outlined above would be solved. Get with the program. wink

brushhog's picture
brushhog
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Posts: 41
The sad reality of mars

The sad reality is that the whole idea of "colonizing mars" just reflects how desperate and out of touch with reality we have become. With our heads in cyberspace and our reality collapsing down around us we are dreaming of flying off to outerspace to colonize "mars". We do not have the technology to do anything close to that and we do not have the mental capacity to comprehend the tremendous cost of energy and resources that "colonizing" a planet with no WATER, no ATMOSPHERE, no FOOD SOURCES, and no ENERGY supply would entail. If we could comprehend those realities we'd be busy making the actual world better and more sustainable.

Guy's, Elon Musk is a salesman. We dont really have the technologies that he talks about...it's called "creating a buzz". Driverless cars are still DECADES away IF EVER. AI isn't really what you think it is. And, no, robots do not exist that can do all our work for us. As a farmer I used to be surprised at how many people actually believe that robots do all our farming now.

We havent even been able to get back to the moon, assuming we ever went in the first place which is slowly starting to become a very real possibility. The robots, the driverless cars, the AI, and the impossible colonizations of planets with no atmosphere is a symptom of a sort of collective dillusion that is starting to affect our society. Fueled by the internet, movies, smartphones, and computers, we are abandoning reality and seeking solace in sci-fy fantasies. There is a difference between reading a sci-fy book to get a temporary escape from the world, and actually BELIEVING that you really live in that book.

Mark_BC's picture
Mark_BC
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 30 2010
Posts: 522
brushhog wrote: The sad
brushhog wrote:

The sad reality is that the whole idea of "colonizing mars" just reflects how desperate and out of touch with reality we have become. With our heads in cyberspace and our reality collapsing down around us we are dreaming of flying off to outerspace to colonize "mars". We do not have the technology to do anything close to that and we do not have the mental capacity to comprehend the tremendous cost of energy and resources that "colonizing" a planet with no WATER, no ATMOSPHERE, no FOOD SOURCES, and no ENERGY supply would entail. If we could comprehend those realities we'd be busy making the actual world better and more sustainable.

Guy's, Elon Musk is a salesman. We dont really have the technologies that he talks about...it's called "creating a buzz". Driverless cars are still DECADES away IF EVER. AI isn't really what you think it is. And, no, robots do not exist that can do all our work for us. As a farmer I used to be surprised at how many people actually believe that robots do all our farming now.

We havent even been able to get back to the moon, assuming we ever went in the first place which is slowly starting to become a very real possibility. The robots, the driverless cars, the AI, and the impossible colonizations of planets with no atmosphere is a symptom of a sort of collective dillusion that is starting to affect our society. Fueled by the internet, movies, smartphones, and computers, we are abandoning reality and seeking solace in sci-fy fantasies. There is a difference between reading a sci-fy book to get a temporary escape from the world, and actually BELIEVING that you really live in that book.

Exactly, I blame equally the masses who accept without question what we are being fed in movies and the media, as well as the elites who are intentionally misleading people. Rather than focus on what we should be -- sustainability and the insane economic system we are part of -- we are focusing on fake mass shootings and Muslim hating (and repealing the second amendment) and dreaming of reaching the stars inspired by a fake Moon landing and current real expeditions into space that serve no practical purpose, while our own existence down here is crumbling away.

I looked into the Moon landing hoax and yes, you don't have to look far to find slam dunk evidence that it was fake.

I'm not sure driverless cars are decades away though. They have been on the roads for a while now. I just don't see their purpose -- so people can waste even more time on their phones? Purportedly self driving cars will lower overall crash rates which may be true, but they have some tricky legal issues to sort out with the recent incident in Arizona. And since when did the elites ever care about people dying?

brushhog's picture
brushhog
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
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Posts: 41
Mark, well said. I agree that

Mark, well said. I agree that the moon landing most likely never happened.The evidence is there, but the biggest telltale is that no other country got to the moon in all these years and we never went back...REALLY?...after 60 years? Not even once? Japan tried, the Russians tried, and nobody else could figure it out? It seems pretty obvious that it was a cold war hoax to one-up the Russians.

I disagree about driverless cars. There have been no driverless cars on the streets accept in controlled testing. The ones you hear about have drivers in them to take over when the computer malfunctions...as happened recently in Arizona where a woman was killed crossing the street...even WITH a driver ready to take over. They cant make a computer or a smartphone without bugs and problems. The idea that they can put a fully autonomous car on the road, driving with nothing but a computer, that has the capacity to cause massive deaths, is nothing short of lunacy.

My prediction; In ten years [ when according to many we are all going to be driven around by self-driving cars] they wont even be talking about them anymore. You might hear a comedian joke about 'remember when we all thought we'd be in driverless cars ten years ago". LOL. Driverless cars are about as likely as the jet packs we were promised in the 1960s.

xhidarta's picture
xhidarta
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 15 2013
Posts: 1
"Houston, we have a problem"

This may not have been a groundbreaking interview but it does provide a much needed revision of the official story repeated ad infinitum from church pulpits and political venues alike: that this was a country founded exclusively as a Christian nation by pilgrims escaping religious persecution and they celebrated happily with the natives the bounty of the land at the Thanksgiving table.  Never mind that the slaughter started in earnest.  A little detail that this author glances over pretending that the Anglos were more humane to the injans than the brutish Conquistadors.  Good try.

Anyhow, the story repeats itself since the beggining of time.  When I left my land of birth at the South cone of America the only oriental people I ever knew were the corner Japanese cleaner and a few others that owned nurseries.  FF 30 years and the Chinese have taken over by storm all the neighborhood grocery stores historically owned by Spanish immigrants and turned them into mini-markets.  It's just a perfect storm, on the one hand a no-man's land kinda environment because the "leadership" could care less about who or how anybody and everybody comes into the country and the most Overpopulated and Polluted country in the world desperately trying to shed population and at the same time expand geopolitical reach.

Humanity will keep doing this, until it can't.  It's obvious that moment has arrived.  It's just a Wile e Coyote moment.

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