If we absolutely must cancel a Dr. Seuss classic, let's make it The Lorax
Last week, I was saddened to learn that among the Dr. Seuss books to have been canceled in recent weeks is And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It's a special book for my 11-year-old son and me, as we both read it for the first time together years ago. This was one of his early favorites, and I have fond memories of him happily sounding out the words of the story over and over.
This was Seuss's very first children's book to be published, and it is excellent. It tells the story of a young boy who's walking home from school, pondering his father's stern warnings to keep his head below the clouds and not to tell such fantastic tales. He spies a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street, however, and finds that simple sight to be much less interesting than the giant, zany parade that he challenges himself to create in his imagination.
What's purported to be racist in the book is its seemingly innocuous depiction of a "Chinese man who eats with sticks" involved in the parade. Suffice it to say, if this image alone is enough to warrant attempts to extract the book from circulation and expunge it from culture, I'd suggest you pick up a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's while you still can still find one on Amazon or eBay, because that piece of celebrated art will undoubtedly find its way to this woke mob's social pyres soon for Mickey Rooney's portrayal of the landlord, Mr. Yunioshi.
There is a certain irony in legions of woke leftists supporting the cancelation of these books, because Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, was certainly a man of the progressive left, and this messaging often drips from the pages of his books. Yertle the Turtle, for example, could either be read as a simple fable about fairness or a screed in support of labor unions who seek to topple the greedy capitalists that are profiting, literally, on the backs of those beneath them. In fact, not long ago, the book's characters and quotes were banned from usage by a teachers' union in Canada during a dispute for being "too political."
Now, call me old-fashioned, but I'm inclined to believe that a free society shouldn't be celebrating the figurative burning of books and that government or corporate oligarchs shouldn't be pressured by morality mobs to limit access to them in a free market. But if we absolutely must cancel a Dr. Seuss book, it shouldn't be Mulberry Street, which no child in a million years could ever be politically radicalized by reading. It should be Seuss's anti–free market opus, The Lorax.
The tale begins in a barren and dark landscape, where a young child pays the Once-ler to tell him all about the fabled Lorax. The Once-ler takes his coin and regales him with a morality tale about the dangers of greed and excess.
"Back in the days when the grass was still green," the story goes, the Once-ler rode into a lush paradise in a covered wagon and proceeded to hack down the beautiful Truffula trees to make garments called Thneeds. The Lorax, best described as a a tree nymph, I suppose, tells the Once-ler that he "speaks for the trees" and continually castigates him for his greed. Undeterred, the Once-ler builds factories to produce the Thneeds, which contaminate the environment. Eventually, the Lorax and all the creatures leave the greedy Once-ler in the once beautiful land that he had destroyed, having chopped down and consumed the very last Truffula tree. In a somber glimmer of hope, the Once-ler drops a Truffula seed to the young boy, who can maybe return the land to its Edenic state, if only he heeds the lesson of his greedy and insatiable ancestors.
Like Yertle, one might be inclined to take this as a fable to highlight environmental awareness, but as is usually the case with artists venturing into the realm of anti-capitalist allegory, it's all a bit on the nose. It is a children's book, after all, and the message is impossible to miss. The story is meant to feed a social awareness that industrious individuals' ravenous desire for profits leads to the mismanagement and destruction of resources. This lesson has certainly been imbibed by a generation of young people reassuring itself that "we are the ones we've been waiting for" and demanding that government, not greedy capitalists, manage the world's resources for them.
The problem isn't just that this is all entirely false, but that it's an incredibly dangerous fallacy.
The Industrial Revolution led to unquestionably the greatest advancement of human well-being in all of our history as a species, yet it is often associated with negative imagery, such as environmentally destructive factories run by robber barons, carelessly consuming resources until the point of eventual exhaustion. This is the basis for the kind of anti-capitalist environmental zealotry promoted by The Lorax, but it's spectacularly untrue.
In fact, the free-market dynamics that have largely prevailed (particularly in the West) since the Industrial Revolution have been instrumental in the conservation and proliferation of resources, not their exhaustion. Given that there has never been, in all of human history, more of what humans need to live or relative luxuries for them to enjoy than what we have today, this truth is self-evident.
A healthy market requires, writes Max Borders at the Foundation for Economic Education, three components: private property, profits, and prices. Prices are "information wrapped in an incentive," so "when the price of some resources goes high enough," he continues, "[property] owners have the incentive to do any number of things. They might use less of it (i.e., conserve it), they might find new creative ways to increase the supply of the resource, or they might find a substitute, which ends up conserving the resource."
American free markets are certainly the enviro-socialists' greatest enemy, but how good have American capitalists been at hacking down all the trees in America's forests, 63 percent of which are privately owned? Actually, as good as they've been at cutting them down, they've been even better at planting and sustaining them to ensure forests' long-term usefulness and profitability, and as such, there are many more trees today than 100 years ago.
But it's not just trees. If the logic of The Lorax were applied to other resources that are ostensibly exploited by greedy profiteers to make consumer goods, cattle barons would have driven the tasty cow into extinction long ago. But they haven't. And, as Borders observes, the unowned bison once roaming the public plains by the millions aren't nearly as abundant as the cows that are owned and raised by free-market profiteers on privately owned lands, where their property is secured by barbed-wire boundaries and legal protections.
There is tremendous danger in the proliferation of the out-and-out lie that communal ownership and socially engineered distribution of resources is morally preferable to private ownership of property and the control mechanisms of the free market, which include the profit motive. That notion is the core belief driving communism, which left over 100 million corpses in its wake in the twentieth century, and few books are guiltier of demonizing free markets and profits for impressionable children than The Lorax.
I'm not in favor of censoring beloved children's books to meet the demands of ever-evolving cultural standards, to be clear. But if we absolutely must be in the horrible business of canceling Dr. Seuss books, perhaps The Lorax would be the best choice. Though something tells me that this isn't the kind of censorship that today's woke Marxists promoting historical revisions and the cultural destruction of America's past have in mind.