In the last week I’ve seen a bunch of friends on Facebook mention the new Seuss movie “The Lorax.” I’ve heard of the book but had absolutely no idea what the story was. A few right-leaning posters made comments about “enviro-wackos” and the like. And a few left-leaning posters made understandably antipodean comments in response.(pic via Wiki)
So I had to figure out what the story was. A little searching and reading later I learned that it’s about some creature that destroys a forest that other creatures depend on. It’s a classic tale of the tragedy of the commons and a lack of private property rights as good as anything from Bastiat. Not only is the mess in the story easily explained by sound economics, it’s quite predictable. Though I am confident that Dr. Seuss (it’s unclear to me if he is an actual physician) didn’t realize this when writing it.
Anyway, this is a brief and easy read from the always good Steven Horwitz. It will explain all better than I could. So read on and enjoy.
The Economics of The Lorax – The Freeman: Dr. Seuss clearly portrays greed and profit-seeking as antithetical to environmental health. Is he right? Must profit-seeking always end in environmental disaster? The answer from economics is a definite no. The key, as is almost always the case in these matters, is property rights. The problem in The Lorax is that Dr. Seuss never clearly indicates who has the property rights over the trees. If the animals of the forest do, then the Once-ler clearly violates their rights by cutting down the trees, not to mention the pollution he creates. However, if the Once-ler has the rights, then he may cut down the trees, though the pollution he creates might still be a violation of the rights of the animals.