The Wizard of Oz

Once again, I have a post which will appeal to the younger as well as the older audience.

The Wizard of Oz, which won two Oscars in 1940, is part of cinematic history in that it was one of the first multi-colour movies.  The movie is based on a novel of the same title by L. Frank Baum. 

Baum’s novel is an allegorical story about a debate in the 1890s surrounding which monetary system the United States should adopt – should it stay on the Gold Standard or should it adopt a bimetallic standard consisting of silver and gold?  Should the currency be backed by gold or by silver and gold? 

‘Oz’, of course, represents gold (Oz = ounce of gold), and Dorothy and her friends travel along the yellowbrick (gold again) road, which ultimately leads to nowhere.  In the novel, Dorothy wears silver slippers (in the film version she wears ruby slippers so as to show off the new colour technology), and these represent silver coinage.  Dorothy represents the ordinary American (honest, kind and plucky), who was being hurt by the gold standard (note the poverty that Dorothy and her family live in).  She is joined on her journey by Toto her dog, who represents the teetotal movement, a bit of a crackpot group which supported the bimetallic system.  The Wicked Witch of the East embodies the eastern business and financial interests, who were advocates of the monometallic monetary system. 

Dorothy and Toto are also joined on their journey to the Emerald City (Washington DC – it is maybe entitled the emerald city due to the colour of the US currency – the greenback) by a scarecrow (representing western farmers), the tin man (the workingman who through industrialisation had lost his heart and had been turned into a mere robot), and the cowardly lion.  The lion represents William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1896, 1900 and 1908, and a leading proponent of a bimetallic standard.  In 1896, he made a famous speech (he was a great orator, which is why Baum uses a lion to represent him), where he said “thou shalt not crucify man on a cross of gold”.   Baum possibly characterises the lion as cowardly because Bryan’s support waned after 1896, following new gold discoveries and economic recovery after the long depression.

For more on this monetary allegory, see Hugh Rockoff’s wonderful paper in the Journal of Political Economyclick here.

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