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The Wizard of Oz as An Economic Parable: A Short Introduction

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My Rating★★★★★

The Wizard of Oz as An Economic Parable: A Short Introduction

This might be common knowledge or it might not be. Some economics textbook claim this is a wonderfully esoteric nugget: The story of Oz was an economic parable. Take that, all you who said economics can’t be fun.

Redistributions of wealth caused by unexpected changes in the price level are often a source of political turmoil. From 1880 to 1896 the price level in the United States fell 23 percent. This deflation was good for Haves (creditors – primarily the bankers of the Northeast), but it was bad for Have-Nots (debtors – primarily the farmers of the South and West). The deflation was blamed almost exclusively on the now notorious Gold Standard and a proposed move towards Silver was instead the craved for alternative.

The Silver issue dominated the presidential election of 1896. William McKinley, the Republican nominee, campaigned on a platform of preserving the gold standard.

William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee, ranged boldly against Gold and for Silver. In a famous speech, Bryan proclaimed, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.’’

Not surprisingly, McKinley was the candidate of the conservative eastern establishment, whereas Bryan was the candidate of the southern and western populists.

Then came The Wizard of Oz.

The midwestern journalist, L. Frank Baum tells the story of Dorothy, a girl lost in a strange land far from her home in Kansas. Dorothy (representing traditional American values) makes three friends: a scarecrow (the farmer), a tin woodman (the industrial worker), and a lion whose roar exceeds his might (William Jennings Bryan). Together, the four of them make their way along a perilous yellow brick road (the gold standard), hoping to find the Wizard who will help Dorothy return home.

Eventually they arrive in Oz (Washington), where everyone sees the world through green glasses (money). The Wizard (William McKinley) tries to be all things to all people but turns out to be a fraud.

Dorothy’s problem is solved only when she learns about the magical power of her (otherwise ordinary) silver slippers. (Unfortunately the movie forgot the parable and omitted the silver slippers – thus depriving the majority of the audience of the real delight in the victory!)

The Republicans (The Wizard) won the election of 1896, and the United States stayed on a gold standard, but the Free Silver advocates got the inflation that they wanted after gold was discovered in Alaska, Australia, and South Africa. Even later, Gold was abandoned altogether and the fraudster wizards was never heard from again. Dorothy and Baum had the last laugh over the unwanted magical oppression of the Yellow Brick Road and the green-tinted world. Well, at least from the road.

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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century by Patrik Ouředník

My Rating★★★★★

It is hard to put a finger on what this book tries to do but it does something important. It narrates history in a detached way without giving any undue importance to the ‘major’ events. It is one of those rare instances when its brevity is the greatest strength of a historical narrative. It is not that lacks in detail detailed, don’t get me wrong here. It does go on about how people did things to each other and developed theories about each other, about how people and nations thought and acted, about large numbers and statistics of war, and about how absurd it all was. It never says in so many words that it was absurd, of course. But it makes you realize that when history is told by someone who has (or seems/ attempts to seem) no agenda or alliances or a spirit of inquiry or even an interest in educating the readers (etc.) but is just told, told as if it is just something that happened – then that narrative has the power to show you how small everything was and how collectively we are a bunch of such magnificent buffoons. There is a touch of Douglas Adams in there somewhere, in that humor and in the sad irony that keeps on putting a half-smile on the reader’s face despite the subject matter being dealt with (Hint: I am not talking of Adams’ sci-fi books here). It is only apt that Ouředník is also the translator of Beckett and Queneau and perhaps most pertinently, of Rabelais.

This should be required reading for students of History – even as we learn about the great nations and the of great wars and of the heroes and of the generals and of the great science and its advances and of turning points and tragedies, we should also learns perspective and learn that history was just about a large bunch of people making decisions that would always seem absurd (like the proverbial best-laid schemes…) to everyone but themselves – either to other countries or at least to posterity . And that would be a valuable lesson… I am not doing justice to this, as I said it is hard to put a finger on what this book does. Just read it?

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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