The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In 1894, the Greenbackers, who pushed for detaching the dollar from gold entirely to allow the government to spend freely on job-creation campaigns, invented the idea of the March on Washington—an idea that was to have endless resonance in U.S. history.

L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which appeared in 1900, is often held to be a parable for the Populist campaign of William Jennings Bryan, who twice ran for president on the Free Silver platform—vowing to replace the gold standard with a bimetallic system that would allow the free creation of silver money alongside gold.

As with the Greenbackers, one of the main constituencies for the movement was debtors: particularly, Midwestern farm families such as Dorothy’s, who had been facing a massive wave of foreclosures during the severe recession of the 1890s.

According to the Populist reading, the Wicked Witches of the East and West represent the East and West Coast bankers (promoters of and benefactors from the tight money supply), the Scarecrow represented the farmers (who didn’t have the brains to avoid the debt trap), the Tin Woodsman was the industrial proletariat (who didn’t have the heart to act in solidarity with the farmers), the Cowardly Lion represented the political class (who didn’t have the courage to intervene). The yellow brick road, silver slippers, emerald city, and hapless Wizard presumably speak for themselves. “Oz” is of course the standard abbreviation for “ounce.”

As an attempt to create a new myth, Baum’s story was remarkably effective. As political propaganda, less so.

William Jennings Bryan failed in three attempts to win the presidency, the silver standard was never adopted, and few nowadays even remember what The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was originally supposed to be about.

Found this gem in David Graeber’s Debt : The First 5,000 Years

 
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