I love Dr. Seuss. Don’t we all?

He taught us a lesson about the stupidity of prejudice in The Sneetches. He inspired us to pursue our dreams in Oh, the Places You’ll Go! We learned that even the smallest contribution can make all the difference in Horton Hears a Who.

Most importantly, of course, as all fathers know, he taught our kids not to break our ribs in Hop on Pop.

But he completely blew it in The Lorax.

DESTRUCTIVE ANARCHY IN THE LORAX

You know The Lorax. That’s the one where a greedy capitalist, known as the “Once-ler,” destroys all the trees, pollutes the air and water and, after completely exhausting the natural resources, leaves nothing but environmental destruction behind.

Except it is complete nonsense. (I know, I know. Dr. Seuss makes up words and his most famous creation is a talking feline in a bow tie and top hat. Pointing out nonsense in his work is, perhaps, nonsense itself. But stay with me here…)

In The Lorax, the Once-ler stumbles upon a beautiful place. I’ll let him describe it:

One morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!
The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees!
Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.

The Once-ler then proceeds to cut down the trees so he can produce Thneeds, which, of course, everyone needs. (Yes, Thneeds!)

ONCE-LER INCOMPETENCY

Eventually he has cut down every last Truffula Tree. Apparently this inevitability came as a shock to the Once-ler. I mean, who could have predicted that the supply of a finite number of trees would eventually run out?

Well, tree farmers, for one.

That’s why the American Tree Farm System, a voluntary organization, exists.[1] ATFS provides information and resources on sustaining, you guessed it, tree farms.

You see, trees are like corn. Both are planted, cultivated and harvested. Corn is harvested yearly. Trees are harvested over a several year period.

For example, it takes about eight years to grow a marketable Christmas tree. If a tree farmer owns eight acres, he will cut down one acre per year. And, get this, he’ll replant them. In this manner, he never runs out of trees. They are replenished. They grow. We get more of them. We don’t run out.

And even more horribly, tree farmers manage their forests this way so they can earn profits. I know, it’s a travesty. Greedy capitalist tree farmers know this. The Once-ler should have known this, too. But he was incompetent. His greed did not destroy the trees. His stupidity did.

PROPERTY RIGHTS IN THE LAND OF TRUFFULA TREES?

Don’t even get me started on the complete lack of property rights in The Lorax. I mean, the Once-ler just walks into a beautiful place and takes over!

Where is the owner? The owner could protect those Truffula Trees! But if NOBODY owns it, then effectively EVERYBODY owns it. That’s what we call the “tragedy of the commons.” When something is owned in common, by everyone, then anyone can just walk in and do whatever they want. Like the Once-ler.

And, in that case, the Once-ler shows the travesty of the lack of private ownership. People are more likely to take care of what they own than what they do not own. This is a legitimate lesson The Lorax can teach us. The Land of The Lorax needs to recognize some good old-fashioned private property rights.

FATAL CONCEIT OF CENTRAL PLANNERS

The Lorax also provides us with a textbook (or should I say picturebook?) example of why central planning fails. The central planners don’t know what people want:

The Lorax said,
‘Sir! You are crazy with greed!
There is no one on earth
Who would buy that fool Thneed!’

The Lorax was wrong. Many people bought the Thneed. It met a market need. (Dr. Suess isn’t the only one who can rhyme!) The Lorax’s mistake is the same mistake people in government make all the time: They think they know what everyone else wants. Or needs. Or deserves. And they are never correct.

PROFIT LEADS TO INNOVATION

So many people wanted Thneeds that the Once-ler needed to increase his production. He hired more people, he built a factory and he invented a way to chop down trees faster:

Now chopping one tree
At a time
Was too slow.
So I quickly invented my Super-Axe-Hacker
Which whacked off four Truffula Trees at one smacker.

The Lorax completely gives no credit to the profit motive that encouraged this invention. Even if he disapproved of its use on Truffula Trees, the Lorax should acknowledge that the Super-Axe-Hacker certainly had other applications, too.

You know, like when NASA invented Tang. The orange powdered drink mix was invented to keep astronauts healthy in space. But some capitalists realized it had other applications, as well. Kids could also drink it at home.

The Super-Axe-Hacker is akin to the cotton gin. They both increase productivity by improving efficiency. And it is a basic fact of human nature that productivity increases when there is an incentive. Marx wanted to change some facts of human nature. He failed. So did the Lorax.

IN CONCLUSION

The problems of The Lorax were not caused by greed. They were caused by incompetent forestry management, in turn caused by a lack of property rights.

The Lorax’s failure to recognize that people actually liked Thneeds and wanted Thneeds and were willing to PAY for Thneeds, along with his failure to realize that innovation is good, certainly did not help the situation.

The next time you read The Lorax to a little one, ask why anyone who wanted to make money would not replant the trees he needed to produce and, horrors of all horrors, earn a profit by providing and selling something other people value?

Ask who owned the land the Once-ler just took over. Point out how wrong the Lorax was about the Once-ler’s ability to sell Thneeds. And ask what good might come of Super-Axe-Hackers, say, in fighting wild fires with something better than fire sackers?

[1] This is an important point. The AFTS is completely voluntary. People who want to learn, join. Voluntarily. It is not a government agency that wields the power to fine, shut down, or otherwise punish you for not doing what you are told.