20 Jan 2006
If ever a Wiz a Wiz there Woz… The Wizard of Oz and Local Currencies
Well you probably knew it already, but it was news to me. Until I attended an excellent talk last night at Schumacher College by David Boyle of the New Economics Foundation, author of The Money Changers, I had no idea that The Wizard of Oz was actually written as an allegory of the gold-backed capitalist monetary system. Apparently although the book was published in 1900, it wasn’t until after the author Frank Baum’s death in the 60s that people began to speculate about the thinking behind the book. The name Oz was supposed to represent the ounce weights that gold was sold in, and Baum himself was deeply involved in the Populist Party, a radical economic reform movement in 1930’s USA.
As this is really not one of those things that I can try and blag that I know much about, I shall hand over to someone who knows more about this than I do. You will also (just to convince you I am not just making all this up) find some great articles about this on the web, such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – A Money Reform Parable, Baum’s Oz; gold, silver and Marx and Wikipedia’s Political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The following is by Michael A Genovese and was first printed in the Los Angeles Times in 1988. Your Christmas days in front of the telly will never be the same again! In case you are interested, Boyle’s talk was about the need for multiple currencies, local, regional and national, and was very informative and useful. I met with him today to discuss the relevance of his thinking to energy descent work which I will write more about soon, he put me onto some very interesting leads. Anyway, back to Genovese’s Oz explanation…
>”In the story, Dorothy is swept away from Kansas in a tornado and arrives in a mysterious land inhabited by ‘little people.’ Her landing kills the Wicked Witch of the East (bankers and capitalists), who ‘kept the munchkin people in bondage.’ In the movie, Dorothy begins her journey through the Land of Oz wearing ruby slippers, but in the original story Dorothy’s magical slippers are silver (a reference to the bimetallic system advocated by W.J. Bryan). Along the way on the yellow brick (gold) road, she meets a Tin Woodsman who is ‘rusted solid’ (a reference to the industrial factories shut down during the depression of 1893). The Tin Woodsman’s real problem, however, is that he doesn’t have a heart (the result of dehumanizing work in the factory that turned men into machines).
>Farther down the road Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, who is without a brain (the farmer, Baum suggests, doesn’t have enough brains to recognize what his political interests are). (Shades of Marx’s critique of peasants!). Next Dorothy meets the Cowardly Lion, an animal in need of courage (Bryan, with a load roar but little else). Together they go off to Emerald City (Washington) in search of what the wonderful Wizard of Oz (the President) might give them. When they finally get to Emerald City and meet the Wizard, he, like all good politicians, appears to be whatever people wish to see in him. He also plays on their fears…. but soon the Wizard is revealed to be a fraud–only a little old man ‘with a wrinkled face’ who admits that he’s been ‘making believe.’ ‘I am just a common man,’ he says. But he is a common man who can rule only by deceiving the people into thinking that he is more than he really is.
>’You’re a humbug,’ shouts the Scarecrow, and this is the core of Baum’s message. Those forces that keep the farmer and worker down are manipulated by frauds who rule by deception and trickery; the President is powerful only as long as he is able to manipulate images and fool the people. (Politics doesn’t change, does it?) Finally, to save her friends, Dorothy ‘melts’ the Wicked Witch of the West (just as evil as the East), and the Wizard flies off in a hot-air balloon to a new life. The Scarecrow (farmer) is left in charge of Oz, and the Tin Woodsman is left to rule the East. This populist dream of the farmer and worker gaining political power was never to come true, and Baum seems to recognize this by sending the Cowardly Lion back into the forest, a recognition of Bryan’s retreat from national politics.
>Dorothy is able to return to her home with the aid of her magical silver shoes, but on waking in Kansas, she realizes that they’ve fallen off, representing the demise of the silver coinage issue in American politics.”