Hugh Rockoff of Rutgers University, ‘The “Wizard of Oz” as a Monetary Allegory,’
, Vol. 98, 1990, pp. 739-760
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.
interpretations have focused on the political and social aspects of the allegory. The most important of
these is Littlefield ( 1968), although his interpretation was adumbrated by Nye (1951), Gardner and
Nye (1957), Sackett (I960), and Bewley ( 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.
This paper also serves a more conventional purpose. William Jennings Bryan and his supporters
in the free silver movement, who play a central role in the story, have been treated as monetary cranks
even by historians who are sympathetic to them on other issues.
Here I show that Bryan's monetary
thought was surprisingly sophisticated and that on most issues his positions, in the light of modern
monetary theory, compare favorably with those of his "sound money" opponents.
L. Frank Baum's early life proved to be ideal preparation for writing a monetary allegory.
a wealthy family in Chittenango, New York, in 1856, Baum while still in his early 20s wrote and produced
a successful play that made it to Broadway. In 1882 he married Maud Gage, the daughter of one of the
leading suffragettes, Matilda Joslyn Gage. Later Baum and his family moved to Aberdeen, South Dakota,
where he viewed at close hand the frontier life that gave rise to the populist movement. He was
unsuccessful in South Dakota, where among other things he published a small paper, the
and several issues of the
In 1890, the Baums moved to Chicago. While
pursuing a number of jobs, he frequented the Chicago Press Club and met some of the city's leading
writers. There he undoubtedly heard a great deal about the battle for the free coinage of silver, especially
in 1896 when Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention at which William Jennings Bryan