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The Wizard of Oz and Economics: The Hidden Connection?

On August 17, 1939, the Musical film, The Wizard of Oz, opens for the first time at Loews Capitol Theatre, NYC. The book version was first published in 1900, and since then, it has been, and will always be, a beloved fairytale. A few historians and economists, however, believe that Frank Baum wrote the book as an allegory and a reflection of the economic and political events at that time.

In 1964, Henry Littlefield wrote an article to argue that the The Wizard of Oz was an allegory for the ongoing debates regarding the monetary policy in the late 1890s. Because of the mounting costs of the Civil War in the 1860s, the US began to return to the gold standard, a monetary system where a currency’s value is pegged to a fixed quantity of gold. This was to potentially quell the inflationary effects of the war. The return to the gold standard, however, limited the money supply in the economy and led to the depression during the late 19th century. To fight the depression, Democrats began to advocate for the free silver movement, allowing banks to print money by purchasing silver, which is more abundant in supply.

This work depicts the free silver movement, a monetary policy largely supported by Democrats

Frank Baum, who was a journalist in Chicago during that period, wrote the book to give a literary rendering of the time. Here’s a little refresher for those of us that need some refreshing: Dorothy and her dog Toto are transported through a cyclone into the the magical world of Oz, where they meet the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man, all of whom travel with Dorothy along the Yellow Brick Road in search of the Emerald City. Enter the main colorful characters of this beloved fairy tale:

Dorothy, the main character, represents the average American: hardworking, kind, straightforward and brave.

The Scarecrow represents the American farmer, who shows a great deal of common sense, tenacity, and resilience, proving those that look down on them wrong.

The Tin Man represents the industrial worker or overworked factory worker whose self-worth was diminished by the conditions at that time. His rust-covered body represents the suffering brought about by the high unemployment rate and poor working conditions of the 1890s.

The Cowardly Lion probably represented Willam Jennings Bryan, a proponent of adding silver to increase the money supply (Free Silver movement)

Other allegorical references also reflect certain conditions of the time. For instance the cyclone that brought Dorothy to Oz may have represented the political upheaval of that time. The Yellow Brick Road may refer to the gold standard, while Dorothy’s silver shoes represent the Free Silver movement. Emerald City may be Baum’s Washington D.C., and the Wizard could be the President of the United States.

Any piece of literature can be subject to interpretation, but the conditions at that time and the elements of the story just seem so similar in context. As for me, I’m just really glad to have stumbled upon this possibility and to affirm that economics is, indeed, pretty much in everything, even in fairytales.


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