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Economic Perspectives, Vol. 26, 2nd, No. 2, May 2002
Following the Yellow Brick Road: How the United States Adopted the Gold Standard
In 1900 L. Frank Baum published a children's tale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In it, a little girl from the Midwest plains is transported by a tornado to the Land of Oz and accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East, setting the Munchkins free. Yearning to return home, she takes the witch's silver shoes and follows the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, in search of the Wizard who will help her. She and the companions she meets on her way ultimately discover that the wizard is a sham, and that the silver shoes alone could have returned her to Aunt Em. Littlefield (1964) and Rockoff (1990) have decoded Baum's tale as an allegory on the monetary politics of late nineteenth century America. The silver shoes are the silver standard, the witch of the East represents the "monied interest" of the East Coast, the scarecrow and the tin man are the farmers and workers of the Midwest, while the cowardly lion is their unsuccessful champion, William Jennings Bryan. The yellow brick road is the gold standard, whose fallacy is exposed by Dorothy's triumphant return home borne by the silver shoes.
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