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The story of “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose” by Dr. Seuss takes place near the fictional Lake Winna-Bango, where a herd of moose line up to graze the moss along the northern shore. Along the way, a “Bingle Bug” notices the large antlers of Thidwick (the last moose in line) and asks if he can live in them since Thidwick is not using them. Thidwick accepts and word is immediately spread.
Consequently, many more animals move into Thidwick’s antlers without his notice, seeking to take advantage of his free resource. Thidwick first becomes bothered when a “Zinn-a-zu bird” painfully yanks Thidwick’s hair right off his head to use to build a nest. The bird is unfazed by Thidwick’s concern, reassuring “You can always grow more!”
Thidwick moves on reaffirming to himself that he is a kind moose for what he is doing. However the rest of the moose herd is unimpressed and disinvites Thidwick to travel with them after the occupying animals become a disturbance to the herd.
As winter approaches the herd begins to travel without Thidwick through the lake to the southern shore where there is a warmer climate and more food to graze. Fearing starvation Thidwick attempts to step in the water only to be abhorred by the animals in his antlers. The animals proclaim Thidwick “has no right” to relocate their home, citing it’s only “fair” that Thidwick does as they say.
The occupying animals continue to invite more creatures to take advantage of Thidwick’s free housing, including a bear (who accepts).
Hungry and lonely, Thidwick struggles to maintain the ever-increasing burden of supporting all the animals occupied on his antlers. Thidwick is nearing collapse until he is met by a group of hunters who spot his vulnerability and begin to shoot at him. Thidwick tries to escape but with the extra weight is unable to make a getaway and is soon trapped by the hunters. Thidwick – who only acted out of his soft heart – is seemingly about to meet his end.
Thidwick then saves his own life by bucking his antlers off, leaving the animals with the hunters and escaping to the southern shore to be welcomed by his old herd.
The story ends with Thidwick’s old antlers being hung on a wall along with the animals, who the hunters have now stuffed.
It is important to note that Dr. Seuss was no conservative. He was in fact, a proud liberal who voted democratic and supported FDR’s New Deal when it happened. However, Dr. Seuss did not write his stories with a particular moral in mind, instead letting his work speak for itself.
With no egregious intentions in mind, Dr. Seuss’ “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose” gives a very poignant critique of the welfare state, redistributionist taxation, and reaffirms the great mistake that Milton Friedman referred to as “judging programs by their intentions rather than their results.”
One might take notice that throughout most of the story, Thidwick did exactly as he was told, never wanting to jeopardize his moral status, and yet he suffered harsh consequences. Even more ironic, it was not until the near-end of the story that due to the unfair advantage taken upon Thidwick to build a free society for the animals that everyone involved was now facing extreme danger.
The story also serves as a great rebuttal for those who believe if people possess unused resources then it would be better for society as a whole if those were given to people who could use it. As the animals in the book said, it is only “kind” and “fair” that those with unused resources do exactly that. Yet in this book written by a liberal, highly protectionist author every creature that thought that same way was dead in the last page of the book.
The longer Thidwick offered his antlers free of cost to the forest’s creatures the more they seemed to need it. The more that Thidwick accepted, the less the other members of the moose herd wanted anything to do with him. Thidwick who was once happy and secure became lonely and hungry.
This mirrors the unsustainability of the welfare state. As long as one side is giving and one side is taking, then members of a society will always find a way to migrate from the giving side to the taking side, eventually till there is nothing left to give, as what nearly happened to Thidwick.
It was not till Thidwick reasserted his freedom and liberty that he was able to save his life and regain his prosperity with the rest of the herd. The animals he left behind also ended worse off than they would have if they had relied on their own resources instead of others. But alas, they are victim to the condemnation of Dr. Seuss, “All stuffed, as they should be.”