Glaeser on the Lorax


Courtesy of Greg Mankiw‘s blog, here is a link to Ed Glaeser‘s interesting critique of the Dr. Seuss story The Lorax on The New York Times‘s Economix blog.

This is yet another example of how so many things that are supposed to be environmentally friendly turn out not to be in the end. Glaeser finishes off the piece with a great anecdote about Henry David Thoreau that I have never heard before.

I am told that Glaeser’s next target is Goodnight Moon.


Having recently read the Lorax to my children, there is nothing in the story at all about the merits of rural environments over urban environments. Ed's piece was interesting, I'm just not sure why he has to take pot-shots at the Lorax in his title. Kinda suspect...


I think that we should be more oncerned that our children are beeing steeped in environmentalist propaganda - of the back-to-nature, Gaia-is-great type, not the ameliorate-human-suffering school. The sin in the Lorax is to use products of nature at all; there is no talk at all of maximizing human happiness through judicious use of Truffala products.


Someone already beat him to Goodnight Moon:


I don't understand his analysis. Perhaps someone can break it down for me. My view is that the population density of the urban landscape is much, much higher than the tree surrounded alternative in the Lorax. Those people still consume resources, and those resources must be transported (albeit probably more efficiently since they are in one location). So while in a one-for-one comparison skyscrapers may be greener than suburbs, surely the sheer volume of people in the city still ends up far worse from an environmental standpoint.

Anyway, for a really good analysis of the problems with the Loraz, check this out:


The Lorax is the Tradagy of the Commons and nothing more. A thought experiment to incite introspection. A parable against explotation .

Oh... and a great hook for a blog article.

C. Larity

I can only hope this leads to more scholarly analysis of children's books. For instance, what DOES happen if I give a mouse a cookie? I need an economist to sort this out for me, as I take that story as literally as the Bible.

And when will someone finally expose the hypocrisy run amok in The Giving Tree?

R Sullivan

I just finished a book on Thoreau, so I am reading this with a perhaps over-Thoreau-ed eye but Glaeser's post is a misreading, I would posit, of Thoreau. Thoreau did not advocate living alone in the woods. Walden seems to be about nature; that is what we have been told, and that is how we are poised to read it. But it is an economic analysis of antebellum America, when, by the way, the deforestation of the New England landscape was at its peak. There were very few forests left in New England when Thoreau wrote Walden, and Walden Pond itself was a woodlot at a time when wood was in short supply, when people were paid in firewood. (That's why people were upset that he accidentally burned down some woods--it was a waste of wood that they needed to burn, a waste of resources, rather than an accidental aesthetic plundering.) Thoreau, moreover, is decidedly cosmopolitan, pushing the benefits of civilization. He is pro-city, after all. He criticizes the tendency at the time to think of citizens as consumers. He criticizes the abandonment of local farms in the pursuit of agricultural profit that makes farming less rather than more lucrative. He writes at a time when the economy had crashed due to a burst bubble, when people were worried about whether capitalism was working, giving the growing disparities between rich and poor. He was not all or nothing, and our reading of him as a hermit off in the woods does us a disservice. For what was radical about him was his pursuit of practical alternatives--to farming, to housing, to Utopian living even. (His little house was a kind of parody of the trend at the time to build second homes, or retreats.) He was really asking people to look not so much at their monetary principle but at what their own principles were. He was looking at how you could make a life rather than buy one. Thoreau was looking for an equilibrium between city and country, as we must have an equilibrium today. What good is smart growth with out a complementary policy to protect the land everywhere else--not as pristine sanctuaries only, but as landscape where we live and work and deal face to tree with our resource usage. The idea of city versus country hurts us because we are all in this together.



Gary Larson's; There's a Hair in my Dirt, is a much better environmental read. When I read it to my kids I only read the left side pages. I'm saving the right side until they're a little older to understand.


next thing you know is that someone is going to blame a cow for burning down a city of people!