The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in Chicago in 1900. Its author, L. Frank Baum, was the editor of a South Dakota newspaper and a supporter of William Jennings Bryan who stood three times, unsuccessfully, as a U.S. Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.
The particular concern of both Baum and Bryan was the nature of the money supply then prevalent in America, and in the Mid-Western States in particular.
In America during the 1890s, as in Britain, there had been a severe depression. Many businesses had gone bankrupt, farmers forced to sell up, factories closed and workers made unemployed. True, some farms in the Mid-West were suffering from drought, but most were still capable of growing food; the businesses and factories were still capable of providing the things that people needed; the workers still wanted to work to provide those things, and people would still want the goods and services produced if they had the money to buy them.
The I.O.U’s, labeled money, in America then, as now, was entirely created by the private banking system out of thin air. The pretence existed then that money was based on gold. (Even now some persons still think that it is!) The major banks, based on the East and West coasts, could vary the amount of money in circulation, lending more to encourage commercial activity, then fore-closing on loans to put people out of business, enabling the banks to acquire their businesses cheaply.
Baum and Bryan wanted money to be based on silver, not gold, as silver was more readily available in the Mid-West, where it was mined. Such a money supply could not be manipulated by the banks. So the story of the Wizard of Oz starts with a cyclone in the form of imagined electoral success for Bryan…
Dorothy, a sort of proverbial ‘Everywoman,’ lands on the Wicked Witch of the East (the East-coast bankers), killing her, so freeing the Munchkins, the down-trodden poor, but the Wicked Witch of the West (the West-coast bankers) remains loose.
To deal with her and to get back to Kansas (normality), the Good Witch of the North, representing the electorate of the North (this is less than 40 years after the civil war), tells Dorothy to seek out the Wizard of Oz (‘oz’ being short for ounce, the means of weighing both gold and silver). She also gives her a pair of silver slippers (as they were in the book – they became ruby ones in the film). Only these silver slippers will enable her to remain safe on the yellow-brick road, representing the bankers’ gold standard, as she heads towards the Emerald City, representing Washington DC.
On her journey, Dorothy encounters a Scarecrow, representing the farmers, who do not have the wit to understand how they can end up losing their farms to the banks, even though they work hard to grow the food to feed a hungry nation. If only they could think it through!
Next, she encounters a Tin Woodsman, representing the industrial workers, rusted as solid as the factories of the 1890s depression, and who have lost the sense of compassion and co-operation to work together to help each other during hard times. Also, a spell cast upon him by the Wicked Witch of the East meant that every time he swung his axe, he chopped off a bit of himself – he downsized!
Then the growing party encounters a Cowardly Lion, representing the politicians. These have the power, through the power of Congress and the Constitution, to confront the Wicked Witches, representing the banks, but they lack the courage to do so.
Dorothy is able to motivate these three potent forces and leads them all towards the Emerald City, whence ‘greenbacks’ had once come, and an encounter with the omnipotent and wonderful Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz is initially quite majestic and apparently awesome, but he turns out to be a little man without the power that people assume he possesses. He does, of course, represent the President of the United States. With the Wizard’s illusion of power shattered, he is replaced by the Scarecrow who would ‘be another Lincoln.’
The Wicked Witch of the West, fearful for her own power, then attempts to destroy Dorothy but is herself dissolved in a bucket of water, as rain relieves the Mid-West drought, saves the farmers’ livelihoods and prevents repossession by the banks.
The Good Witch of the South, representing the Southern electorate, tells Dorothy that her silver slippers, silver-based money, are so powerful that anything she wishes for is possible, even without the help of the Wizard. Dorothy wishes to go home. There all is now well, because the land has a stable and abundant money supply.
So ends this famous modern American ‘fairy-tale.’ Its true message has been lost to the mists of time and the demands of Hollywood, but its message is no less pertinent now than when it was written.