The “Wizard of Oz” as a Monetary Allegory

The “Wizard of Oz” as a Monetary Allegory

by Hugh Rockoff of Rutgers University

 

“The Wizard of Oz is perhaps the best-loved American children’s story. The movie, starring Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger and company, is an annual television ritual. The book on which the movie is based, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, however, is not only a child’s tale but also a sophisticated commentary on the political and economic debates of the Populist Era.1 Previous interpretations have focused on the political and social aspects of the allegory. The most important of these is Littlefield ([1966] 1968), although his interpretation was adumbrated by Nye (1951), Gardner and Nye (1957), Sackett (I960), and Bewley ([1964] 1970). My purpose is to unlock the references in the Wizard of Oz to the monetary debates of the 1890s. When the story is viewed in this light, the real reason the Cowardly Lion fell asleep in the field of poppies, the identity of the Wizard of Oz, the significance of the strange number of hallways and rooms in the Emerald Palace, and the reason the Wicked Witch of the West was so happy to get one of Dorothy’s shoes become clear. Thus interpreted, the Wizard of Oz becomes a powerful pedagogic device. Few students of money and banking or economic history will forget the battle between the advocates of free silver and the defenders of the gold standard when it is explained through the Wizard of Oz.”

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