Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) Will Be On The Right Side of History

Perhaps a bit of the 2016 election was some of the 1896 election history repeating itself:

 

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, (the American children’s novel, not the movie), the ‘cowardly lion’ character was based on William Jennings Bryan. The entire story, published in 1900, and written by author L. Frank Baum, was a political allegory. Officially, any similarities of the book and actual events was a ‘coincidence’ (Just like all episodes of South Park open with the tongue-in-cheek disclaimer that “All characters and events in this show – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional”). While writing the book in 1896, Baum had been a political activist and wrote on behalf of William McKinley, the Republican candidate for president in that year’s election. McKinley ran on a platform calling for prosperity for everyone through industrial growth, high tariffs on imports, and the continuation of the gold standard…

 

McKinley’s opponent was William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for president, who campaigned for the average working man against the rich, and he blamed the rich for impoverishing America, by intentionally limiting the money supply (by keeping just gold as the only metal backing of the dollar). Bryan and his followers, called ‘Silverites’, wanted a bimetallic-standard redux (a return of silver) with it tied to gold at a 16:1 conversion rate. Bryan argued that restoring silver, which was in ample supply, if once again coined into money, would restore prosperity while undermining the illicit power of the ‘big-city business owners’ and the ‘money trust’. Bryan’s moralistic rhetoric included his crusade for ‘reflation’ (a slight and intentional, federal-gov’t orchestrated inflation, generated by an increase in money supply by including silver with gold). Bryan convinced many that the ‘Free Silver’ movement was the best solution that would get more purchasing power into the hands of consumers and ending frequent depressions caused by the deflationary shortage of dollars due to the monetary constraint of the gold standard. Silver, or the ‘people’s money’ as it was referred to in his politically-charged speeches, became increasingly associated with populism, unions, and the fight of ordinary Americans…

 

Fast forward to today, MMTers (enthusiasts of Modern Monetary Theory) are certainly not calling for currency to be backed by metals, but the main themes of William Jennings Bryan’s presidential campaign do rhyme with the MMT movement (actually it is more like an ‘enlightenment’ than a movement). Which is that we need to pull the curtain back and expose the facade that the federal gov’t is monetarily ‘constrained’ (federal taxes are not actually needed for spending); that there is nothing to worry about if inflation is ‘slight’ (is contained to < 2% / yr); that policymakers could easily get desperately-needed purchasing power into the hands of consumers; and finally, that despite the group-think narrative otherwise, we have the financial means already at our disposal to solve many of the country’s (perhaps most of the entire world’s) problems…

 

To be fair, in 1896, the Republican Party steadfastly opposed Democrats and their silver movement, arguing that the best road to national prosperity was ‘sound money’, backed only by gold, which they felt was crucial to continued success in international trade. Republicans pleaded that by adding silver, that just meant guaranteed higher prices for everyone, not just for farmers and the steel workers who needed the extra cash. Republicans criticised William Jennings Bryan by arguing that the real net gains of his plan to spur the economy would chiefly go the silver interests (who Republicans claimed Bryan was cowardly shilling for)…

 

Despite William Jennings Bryan’s inspired campaign effort and his impassioned ‘Cross of Gold’ speech (“We will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”), the ‘Silverites’ lost to William McKinley in the 1896 election. By 1900, the silver market had completely collapsed. The gold dollar was declared the standard unit of account and a gold reserve for government issued paper notes (existing legal-tender greenbacks) was established…

 

However, in a nod to William Jennings Bryan (in a nod to his voters and to see if maybe he was right), silver dollar coins went back to being legal tender. Also included as legal tender were silver certificates (paper bills that on demand could be redeemable to silver dollar coins). Some silver standard countries began to peg their silver coin units to the gold standards of the United Kingdom and the United States, but both Bryan’s ultimate goals to become US president and to garner national / worldwide support for the continued acceptance of silver failed miserably. In short, throughout American history, in the trials of remaining as an additional backing of currency, silver had its fits and starts and simply came up short. A centuries-long era of silver as a world currency was ending. Bryan also lost to McKinley a second time, in the 1900 US presidential election (McKinley was assassinated six months into his second term and succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt), and Bryan again lost the 1908 US presidential election to William Howard Taft. Meanwhile, other countries moved away from silver and began adopting only a gold standard. By 1910, only China and Hong Kong remained on any kind of silver standard…

 

Getting back to the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, why was William Jennings Bryan portrayed as the ‘Lion’? Most likely it’s because he roared tirelessly like a lion. At the age of 36, Bryan became (and still remains) the youngest presidential nominee of a major party in American history. In just 100 days in the 1896 campaign, Bryan gave over 500 speeches to several million people. His record was 36 speeches in one day in St. Louis. Why a ‘Cowardly Lion’? Politics makes strange bedfellows and Bryan often found himself in alliance with the same folks he roared against. For example, while supported by William Randolph Hearst, plus other powerful figures in the silver mining industry, Bryan also associated with industrialist Andrew Carnegie, as well as others who had fought against silver, and for that, the press mocked Bryan as an indecisive coward…

 

Other metaphors in the book include ‘Dorothy’, who was the naïve, young and simple person. She was all of us, the American people at that time, led astray and seeking a way back home…

 

The ‘Scarecrow’ was the wheat and cotton farmers and the ‘Tin man’ was the blue collar industrial worker, especially those of the American steel industry. Both were overworked and both were poor debtors needing relief…

 

The four of them set off on the yellow brick road (the gold standard) towards OZ (the abbreviation for ounce as in a troy oz. of gold) in the hopes of adding silver to the gold standard, at a conversion rate of 16:1. This rate is represented by the four of them skipping twice to the left and twice to the right on the yellow brick road, meaning a total of sixteen (silver) steps equals one (gold) step forward…

 

The ‘Good Witch of the North’ represented pure kindness, an extremely gentle character, who stood against the oppression and subjugation of people. In the book, she deposed her predecessor, the Wicked Witch of the North, and because she was good, it renders her, the new Good Witch of the North less powerful, yet loved by her own subjects and others in Oz…

 

The ‘Wicked Witch of the East’ was the eastern moneyed class, mainly the banks. The banks (underwriters of bonds plus any outright bondholders) feared William Jennings Bryan’s plan because the effects of inflation would hurt them. In the book, the Wicked Witch of the East wears silver slippers unlike the movie that used ruby slippers (the movie is intentionally apolitical). After Dorothy deposes the Wicked Witch of the East (killed by Dorothy’s house landing on her), the dead witch’s silver shoes transfer to Dorothy and the Good Witch of the North tells Dorothy that “there is some charm connected with them.”…

 

The ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ was the mountain-states robber-barons, mainly the railroad monopolists and the gold-mining interests out west. Like banks in the east, the railroad monopolists were also creditors and feared any plan that would devalue the dollar, making their investments, denominated in greenbacks less valuable. In addition, gold mine owners feared any plan that would put silver mines back in business (more competition). In the book, the witches carry umbrellas, not brooms, and the witches are not sisters, they are not related at all, only that the witches are both leagued together to stop any plan that would mean a loss of their powers…

 

The ‘Flying Monkeys’ were Native American Indians that the Wicked Witch of the West used to harass anyone on her turf posing a threat. Why author L. Frank Baum would call them ‘monkeys’ in his book could be because Baum had a dark side as a hard-core, blood-thirsty racist. In several editorials for his local newspaper, the Saturday Pioneer, Baum recommended the total genocidal slaughter of all remaining indigenous peoples in America. “The Whites,” Baum wrote in 1890, “by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians, so why not annihilation?”

 

The ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was the scheming politician of green ‘Emerald City’ (greenback dollars). The Wizard uses publicity devices and tricks to fool everyone into believing he is benevolent, wise, and powerful when in reality he is a selfish, evil humbug. When Dorothy arrives, the Wizard can’t be bothered to see her (to consider adding silver), so to get rid of her, he tells her that he would help her if she killed the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard can’t do this himself because as he admits to Dorothy, “I’m a very bad Wizard”…

 

Dorothy does kill the witch, by melting her with plain water (the long held belief amongst major religions is that water is effective for purifying the soul and combating evil). When Dorothy returns, the Wizard isn’t pleased to see them again. He continues his scripted narrative, projected on a screen, until Toto pulls aside the curtain…

 

After Toto’s reveal, The Wizard is abashed and apologetic, and offers help to Dorothy and her friends. When the day comes to help Dorothy return back home, there is a mishap, and all seemed lost, until the Good Witch of the North appears. The Good Witch reassures Dorothy that she always had the power (“You had the power all along to return home to Kansas”) by simply clicking her heels together (meaning the country had the silver all along, and it could solve many of everyone’s needs, by simply jingling the silver coins).

 

The messenger, William Jennings Bryan (Bernie Sanders) fell on the wrong side of history…

…however…

Pulling back the curtain and revealing the macroeconomic reality (the MMT enlightenment), so that our federal gov’t can fully serve public purpose without constraint, will be on the right side of history.  

 

 

Thanks for reading,

eddiedelz@gmail.com

Comments are closed.