Monday, August 01, 2005

The Lorax, redux

As initiator of the Lorax Hall of Shame award (see right sidebar for winners to date), I must point out the post at The Commons on the Lorax (an immortal environmental manifesto by Dr. Seuss - here is the full text) - and property rights and the tragedy of the commons.
The conventional interpretation is that it's a tale of market-driven environmental ruin. The greedy Once-ler ignores the Lorax's warnings of environmental ruin as he turns truffula trees into thneeds (for a thneed, after all, is a thing that everyone needs!). ... Eventually the Once-ler cuts the last truffula down, and his entire corporate empire folds up and leaves town.

Paul Feine of the Institute for Humane Studies suggests the Lorax is subject to alternative interpretations. Viewing the tale of the Lorax through an institutional lens, ruin is not the result of corporate greed, but a lack of institutions. The truffula trees grow in an unowned commons. (The Lorax may speak for the trees, but he does not own them.) The Once-ler has no incentive to conserve the truffula trees for, as he notes to himself, if he doesn't cut them down someone else will. ... Had the Once-ler owned the trees, his incentives would have been quite different -- and he would likely have acted accordingly -- even if he remained dismissive of the Lorax's environmental concerns.
Commenting on the post (and the many comments), Andy Brett at Gristmill writes:
Despite some recent troubles, land trusts are extremely appealing in theory. Just think -- for the upfront cost of the land, you are able to determine its use for the rest of human existence. Talk about leaving a legacy.
The non-profit to which I donate most regularly is The Nature Conservancy. They have a no-nonsense approach to saving wild places or restoring damaged ones: they buy them, using their contributors' money. Sometimes they then manage to sell them, protected, to other land stewards, recycling the funds into other projects. They seem incredibly efficient. And the magazine is beautiful. The Nature Conservancy (it has local chapters in every state) manages to scrape up a little optimism for us even in the worst of times.

By the way, I would gratefully accept your nominations for future "Lorax Hall of Shame" posts.

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