Friday, November 30, 2018

Do you have to be selfish to make more money?

See Selfish people earn less money than generous people by Leah Fessler of Quartz. Excerpts:
"Researchers at Stockholm University, the Institute for Futures Studies, and the University of South Carolina examined data on more than 60,000 people in the US and Europe to understand whether one’s “prosociality,” or interest and engagement in others’ wellbeing, is indicative of how much money the person makes and whether they have children.

While previous research suggests that prosocial behavior positively impacts psychological wellbeing, the authors of this study wanted to examine the effect on income and the number of children people have because, as the researchers write, “these are the currencies that matter most in theories that emphasize the power of self-interest, namely economics and evolutionary thinking.”

Their findings bode well for the future of humanity. Across all five studies they analyzed as part of their research, selfish people were not the highest earners. (They also had the fewest children.) But in four of the five studies, those who earned the highest salaries weren’t the most altruistic people either. Instead, they were “moderately prosocial,” meaning they were mostly unselfish, but not entirely. (In one study, the most prosocial people did in fact earn the highest salaries.)"
It seems that it is in a person's self-interest to care about other people. How does this relate to Adam Smith's idea of the "invisible hand," that it leads people who are acting in their own self-interest to make society better off?

Here is an excerpt from The Wealth of Nations found at The Library of Economics and Liberty
"Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to the society." 
"But the annual revenue of every society is always precisely equal to the exchangeable value of the whole annual produce of its industry, or rather is precisely the same thing with that exchangeable value. As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it."
I have posted on these issues before. One was called "Want to be happy and successful? Try compassion." That was the title of an article by Jen Christensen of CNN. Here is that post

By Jen Christensen of CNN.

Economists assume that people are selfish. It seems reasonable to also assume that selfish people want to be happy and successful. So it could be in the interest of selfish people to be compassionate. This might be a variation on the invisible hand of Adam Smith, the idea that it leads self-interested people to act for the good of society.


"The compassionate tend to have deeper connections with others and more friends. They are more forgiving and have a stronger sense of life purpose. Many studies have shown these results. Compassion also has direct personal benefit. The compassionate tend to be happier, healthier, more self-confident, less self-critical, and more resilient."
The article also discusses compassion exercises that change your brain.

Below is a related post I did in January called "The Dalai Lama Says It Is Sometimes OK To Be Selfish."

"This is mostly a post from November, 2013. But there was another article about something similar involving the Dalai Lama this week. So I have a bit about that at the end of this post.

And of course, Adam Smith said when people act selfishly they are led, as if by an invisible hand, to make society better off.

So when might it be OK to be selfish according to his holiness? When caring for others.

Wait, how can that be selfish? Or is this some kind of Zen riddle like what is the sound of one hand clapping? No, it's biology and evolution. See Lending a hand does a body good by Jessica Belasco, from the San Antonio Express-News, 10-25-2013.

She talked to Dr. James R. Doty, a neurosurgeon at the Stanford University School of Medicine and founder of Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Excerpts:

"Practicing compassion — recognizing someone else is suffering and wanting to help relieve that suffering — just might be as important for health as exercise or a healthful diet, some scientists believe.

When we respond to another person's needs, our body responds in turn:

We become relaxed and calm.
Our blood pressure goes down.
Our stress level goes down.

Practicing compassion is associated with lengthened telomeres, the DNA that protects the ends of your chromosomes and is a marker of longevity.

To understand why humans are hard-wired for compassion, Doty said, just look at human evolution: Caring for others was essential to the survival of the species. Humans developed powerful neuropathways associated with nurturing and bonding with their offspring as motivation to care for them in a hostile environment; otherwise their genes could not be passed on. The same was true beyond the nuclear family when humans formed hunter/gatherer tribes.

A few hundred millennia later, our need for compassion remains strong. We may not be facing predators as our ancestors did, but frequent low-level stressors — work deadlines, traffic noise, our cellphone buzzing with texts — keep our fight-or-flight response continually engaged. That releases stress hormones, which raises the risk of disease.

When we're responding to others' needs, though, we engage the “parasympathetic nervous system,” relaxing us, Doty said. Stress hormones decrease, and the immune system is boosted. In fact, that occurs even if we just think about performing a good act for someone.

That's why intervening when someone needs help — whether in the form of a hug, reassurance, financial help or something else — has a powerful impact not just on the person being helped but on the helper.

Studies also have shown that volunteering, which is a way to practice compassion, helps increase longevity — but with an important exception. Study subjects who said they were volunteering to impress somebody or for some other benefit, not because they authentically wanted to help others, didn't enjoy the same benefit."
Adam Smith wrote a book called The Theory of Moral Sentiments. One point he made there was that we are able to sympathize with other people by trying imagine what they are going through (and I wonder if we need to be good storytellers to be able to do that). Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has been studying how the hormone oxytocin plays a role in making us feel good when we have empathy for others (beware: Zak is a big hugger). See an earlier post Adam Smith vs. Bart Simpson for more details.

There is an interesting book called Paleopoetics: The Evolution of the Preliterate Imagination. It relates storytelling to evolution.

Click here to go the Amazon listing. It is by Christopher Collins, professor emeritus of English at New York University. Here is the description:
"Christopher Collins introduces an exciting new field of research traversing evolutionary biology, anthropology, archaeology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and literary study. Paleopoetics maps the selective processes that originally shaped the human genus millions of years ago and prepared the human brain to play, imagine, empathize, and engage in fictive thought as mediated by language. A manifestation of the "cognitive turn" in the humanities, Paleopoetics calls for a broader, more integrated interpretation of the reading experience, one that restores our connection to the ancient methods of thought production still resonating within us.

Speaking with authority on the scientific aspects of cognitive poetics, Collins proposes reading literature using cognitive skills that predate language and writing. These include the brain's capacity to perceive the visible world, store its images, and retrieve them later to form simulated mental events. Long before humans could share stories through speech, they perceived, remembered, and imagined their own inner narratives. Drawing on a wide range of evidence, Collins builds an evolutionary bridge between humans' development of sensorimotor skills and their achievement of linguistic cognition, bringing current scientific perspective to such issues as the structure of narrative, the distinction between metaphor and metonymy, the relation of rhetoric to poetics, the relevance of performance theory to reading, the difference between orality and writing, and the nature of play and imagination."
Click here to read a longer description by Collins himself.

Here is the new article from this week The Dalai Lama Explains Why Being Kind to Others is the Secret to Happiness. Excerpt:
"Have you ever wondered why it matters that you care for other people?

It seems commonsense that this is a good way to live life. But there are dominant philosophies today that suggest we need to maximize our own individual self-interest.

This comes from economic theories of capitalism that suggest when people look after their own self-interest, then society is better off.

The Dalai Lama explains why this doesn’t make sense in the beautiful passage below. As he says, it’s an obvious fact that your own sense of wellbeing can be provided through your relationships with others. So it’s best to start cultivating practices of kindness and compassion."
Then the article has a long statement from the Dalai Lama on this philosophy. But some economists might say that you can't run a successful business if you don't care about others and try to learn their wants and desires. Here is what Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”"

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving dinner is at its lowest price since 2010

See Why the cost of Thanksgiving dinner is at its lowest price since 2010 by By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer. Excerpt:
"As Americans prepare their elastic waistbands for this year's Thanksgiving feast, they can also be thankful for the extra money they may find in their wallets. For the third straight year, the American Farm Bureau Federation found the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner to have declined in total price from the previous year's holiday.

In the Farm Bureau's 33rd annual survey, the results indicate the average cost for this year’s meal to be $48.90. John Newton, the AFBF Chief Economist, said that this year’s average cost is at the lowest level since 2010.

“Thanks to an ample supply, turkey remains affordable for consumers,” Newton said in the release. “Which helps keep the overall cost of the dinner reasonably priced as well.”

According to the survey, the price of turkeys dropped 3 percent from last year, equivalent to about $1.36 per pound.

The survey is based on prices of common items found on many Thanksgiving tables, such as turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie. All the quantities were adjusted to sufficiently serve a family of 10.

Along with turkeys, the price of milk, sweet potatoes, green peas and rolls were also found to be less expensive than they were in 2017."
The article also discusses how weather has affected the pumpkin and cranberry crops.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Pre-market societies could sometimes have alot of violence

Non-capitalist or pre-capitalist societies can have quite a bit of violence. The first quote comes from The Making of Economic Society, 13e by Robert L. Heilbroner and William Milberg.
"It is difficult for us to reconstruct the violent tenor of much of feudal life, but one investigator has provided a statistic that may serve to make the point: Among the sons of English dukes, 46 percent of those born between 1330 and 1479 died violent deaths. Their life expectancy when violent death was excluded was 31 years; when violent death was included, it was but 24 years."
That came from T. H. Hollingsworth, “A Demographic Study of the British Ducal Families,” Population Studies, XI (1957–58). Imagine if someone told you that 46% of the sons of senators or Fortune 500 CEOs were going to die violently over the next 150 years.

Now there is a study out called "The Better Angels of Their Nature: Declining Violence through Time among Prehispanic Farmers of the Pueblo Southwest", American Antiquity, Volume 79, Number 3 / July 2014. See The Most Violent Era In America Was Before Europeans Arrived. It discusses some periods when native American life was quite violent. Here are some excerpts:
"Writing in the journal American Antiquity, Washington State University archaeologist Tim Kohler and colleagues document how nearly 90 percent of human remains from that period had trauma from blows to either their heads or parts of their arms.

"If we're identifying that much trauma, many were dying a violent death," said Kohler. The study also offers new clues to the mysterious depopulation of the northern Southwest, from a population of about 40,000 people in the mid-1200s to 0 in 30 years."
"It wasn't just violent deaths that poke holes in the harmony with the land and each other myth. A paper in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Southwest also had a baby boom between 500 and 1300 that likely exceeded any population spurt on earth today. The northern Rio Grande also experienced population booms but the central Mesa Verde got more violent while the northern Rio Grande was less so.

Kohler has conjectures on why. Social structures among people in the northern Rio Grande changed so that they identified less with their kin and more with the larger pueblo and specific organizations that span many pueblos, such as medicine societies. The Rio Grande also had more commercial exchanges where craft specialists provided people both in the pueblo, and outsiders, specific things they needed, such as obsidian arrow points.

But in the central Mesa Verde, there was less specialization.

"When you don't have specialization in societies, there's a sense in which everybody is a competitor because everybody is doing the same thing," said Kohler. But with specialization, people are more dependent on each other and more reluctant to do harm."

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Leaders In Gross National Debt As A Percent of GDP Among Advanced Economies In 2017

This comes from an IMF report. See IMF Fiscal Monitor: Capitalizing on Good Times, April 2018. You have to click on "Methodological & Statistical Appendix." Then click on "Full Text." Look for "Table A7. Advanced Economies: General Government Gross Debt, 2009–23
(Percent of GDP)."

Here are all the countries with at least 90%:

Country % of GDP
Japan 236.4
Greece 181.9
Italy 131.5
Portugal 125.6
G7 118.6
Singapore 110.9
United States 107.8
Belgium 103.2
Cyprus 99.3
Spain 98.4
France 97

G7 means the average of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

They also have "Net Debt" as a percentage of GDP. The U.S. was at 82.3% in 2017 while the average for all Advanced Economies was 76.3%. For the G7 it was 87.5%.

From the report:
"Net debt: Gross debt minus financial assets corresponding to debt instruments. These financial assets are monetary gold and special drawing rights; currency and deposits; debt securities; loans, insurance, pensions, and standardized guarantee programs; and other accounts receivable. In some countries, the reported net debt can deviate from this definition based on available information and national fiscal accounting practices."
China is in the category of "Emerging Market and Middle-Income Economies." Their gross debt as a % of GDP was 47.8% in 2017. They don't have a report for their net debt.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Robots Are Coming And It Might Not Be A Case of Structural Unemployment

In my macroeconomics class, we talk about the types of unemployment. Here is one of them:

Structural-unemployment caused by a mismatch between the skills of job seekers and the requirements of available jobs. One example of this is when you are replaced by a machine.

See Short of Workers, Fast-Food Restaurants Turn to Robots: Flippy the burger chef doesn’t complain about the drudgery of grill work and never leaves the kitchen by Julie Jargon and Eric Morath of The WSJ. Also Manufacturers adopt robots that help human workers, not replace them. For now. by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz of the Chicago Tribune. It discusses “cobots,” short for collaborative robots.

The WSJ article suggests that businesses are turning to robots due to labor shortages, not necessarily to replace workers. One place has "Flippy, a robot that turns the burgers and cleans the hot, greasy grill." The link has a video. Excerpts:

"The hospitality industry had 844,000 unfilled positions in April, a record high, according to the Labor Department. That accounts for about one out of every eight jobs available in America. Employment in food service and drinking places has increased by 1.6 million since May 2013 to 11.9 million in May 2018.

If businesses were just using machines to replace workers, you would see high unemployment in the industry, said Donald Grimes, a labor economist at the University of Michigan. “But you’re not seeing that at all.”

The 6% unemployment rate for restaurant workers is the lowest on record, according to the Labor Department. It tops the 3.8% overall unemployment rate, yet is extremely low for an industry with notoriously brisk turnover—a full percentage point below where it stood in 2000, the last time overall unemployment was as low as it is today.

The rise of machines in theory should lead restaurants to employ fewer people per establishment. So far that’s not happening, either. Nationwide, employment is up at individual quick-service restaurants, to 18.4 workers per establishment last year, from 17.4 before the recession began in late 2007.

Many restaurants are trying to do more, including staying open around the clock or delivering food. Some chains also need more employees to handle the increased demand that comes from automating tasks such as ordering."

"some Dunkin’ shops use digital refractometers to determine if coffee meets specifications.

Automation improves consistency, shaves time off tasks, and may help ease the incessant turnover that crimps productivity and staffing across the industry."

"A 2013 study by University of Oxford economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne found that food service occupations, including cooks, hosts and servers, ranked in the top 20% of most automatable jobs among 700 occupations examined. Additional research from The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development said food preparation faced the highest probability of automation among 88 industries."

"the labor pool is shrinking and wages are picking up, in part because of the shortages and also due to minimum-wage increases in many states."

"Automats, the waiterless establishments of the early 20th century that combined vending machines and a cafeteria, could be considered the first fast-food restaurants, said Magne Mogstad, a labor economist at the University of Chicago. They were shoved aside by fast-food restaurants that depended on humans to function.

“Automation,” he said, “may very well create demand for service with a personal touch.”

Panera Bread has created approximately 25,000 new jobs over the past two years including delivery drivers and new restaurant workers to handle the extra volume coming from digital ordering."

"McDonald’s Corp. is offering table service now too, thanks to self-order kiosks."

Related posts:

Robot Journalists-A Case Of Structural Unemployment?

Structural Unemployment In The News-Computers Can Now Tell Jokes 

WHAT do you get when you cross a fragrance with an actor?

Answer: a smell Gibson.

Robot jockeys in camel races

Are Computer Programs Replacing Journalists?

Automation Can Actually Create More Jobs

Friday, October 26, 2018

Joseph Schumpeter And Me

Jeffery S. McMullen of Indiana University published an article in the academic journal "Business Horizons." It is titled

"Are we confounding heroism and individualism? Entrepreneurs may not be lone rangers, but they are heroic nonetheless."

At the end of the post is a link to this article.

McMullen cites a paper I wrote in the 1990s and mentions my name in the same sentence as Joseph Schumpeter, an important economist from the 20th century.

Click here to read a short bio of him

A few years ago I wrote a post called "My Favorite Economist Is Joseph Schumpeter."  Here it is

""Why is this blog called The Dangerous Economist? Back in the early 1990s, I wrote a paper called "The Creative-Destroyers: Are Entrepreneurs Mythological Heroes?" It compares the entrepreneur in capitalism to the hero in mythology. I was never able to get it published in an academic journal. One referee even said the idea was dangerous. I doubt much harm would have befallen the U.S. economy had this paper been published. It is now online at

Creative Destroyers

A shorter version is at

Shorter Version

If you clicked on the link about why I chose this name for my blog and then these articles and read them you would have discovered some of the things that I list below and they would have pointed you to Schumpeter.

The process whereby innovations occur was called "Creative Destruction" by Schumpeter in his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. "Creative Destruction" was

"The opening of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U. S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation if I may use that biological term-that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from with in, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating the new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in" (p. 83).

In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell described the action of the hero with

"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. "(p. 30)

Campbell (1968) also has a section called "The Cosmogonic Cycle" which "unrolls the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world which is vouchsafed as revelation to the successful hero" (p. 38). The connection to Schumpeter's theory of creative destruction is clear. A successful entrepreneur simultaneously destroys and creates a new world, or at least a new way of life. Henry Ford, for example, destroyed the horse and buggy age while creating the age of the automobile. But even more to the point is the fact that the hero finds that the world "suffers from a symbolical deficiency" (p. 37) and that "the hero appears on the scene in various forms according to the changing needs of the race" (p. 38). The changing needs and the deficiency may directly correspond to the changing market conditions or the changing desires for products. The entrepreneur IS the first person to perceive the need or opportunity for market profits.

Joseph Campbell's book inspired George Lucas to make the Star Wars movies."
Link to the article by Jeffery S. McMullen of Indiana University. March 2017 Business Horizons.

The full text of the article is at the link.

Here is the paragraph where he mentions my name.
"While such mythological heroism –— either super or mundane –— has long ruled the box office, it appears to be out of vogue in scholarly research on entrepreneurship. This is ironic, given that modern entrepreneurship theory is deeply rooted in such a narrative. Cyril Morong (1994), for example, demonstrates how the entrepreneur of Schumpeter’s theory maps onto the hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell. In his Theory of Economic Development, Joseph Schumpeter (1934) clearly taps into the ethos of existentialism, arguing that the entrepreneur is motivated by the joy of creating, the dream of founding a private kingdom, or the will to conquer. These motives give Schumpeter’s entrepreneur the courage necessary to bear uncertainty and impose his will –— much like a Nietzschean übermensch –— onto his social system by introducing innovative new combinations of resources. In doing so, the entrepreneur transforms the economy and, by extension, society. Thus, one of the most in fluential theories of entrepreneurship conceives of the entrepreneur as a mythological hero Are we confounding heroism and individualism? Entrepreneurs may not be lone rangers, but they are heroic nonetheless." 
Here are the last three paragraphs.

"Are entrepreneurs lone rangers? No, but that does not mean that entrepreneurship occurs without heroic individualism. Like entrepreneurship, true heroism is interdependent by its very nature. Even if an entrepreneur were somehow able to go it alone, his or her success would still depend on customers as well as other possible stakeholders (e.g., employees, investors, suppliers, distributors, etc.). Similarly, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could be heroic without a somewhat intimate knowledge of and concern for others’ welfare. Entrepreneurs must bear the costs of their actions before they receive the benefits, which only come if the costs the entrepreneurs incur ultimately benefit someone else.

Therefore, before we declare the heroic entrepreneur a myth, perhaps we should consider the term ‘myth’ as literally as Campbell has. Any innovative act exhibits an element of uncertainty and thus requires a corresponding degree of courage. Although this may only be a moment’s adrenaline rush, it is more likely an extended ride on an emotional rollercoaster that exhausts as well as elates. It is a hero’s journey of existential import and consequence. If this is true, then extraction of heroism from entrepreneurship is misguided, as it would do nothing to correct for scholars’ undersocialization of the entrepreneurial act. Instead, it would merely neglect the courage and sacrifice required from individuals like Elon Musk, who may not act alone, but nonetheless must act if entrepreneurship is to occur.

Ignoring this fact is not only likely to produce bad science but also may affect practice via bad policy. To the extent that policymakers erroneously believe heroism is unnecessary, they are likely to underestimate the costs entrepreneurs must incur not just to succeed, but also to try at all. Lack of sympathy about such sacrifices would likely shape institutional (dis)incentives. Thus, to deny that entrepreneurship is a heroic act is to neglect the need to reward its success and to forgive its potential failure. For these reasons, it may behoove scholars, policymakers, and practitioners alike to think twice before throwing out the baby of heroism with the bathwater of individualism."

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Is There Economic And Political Meaning In "The Wizard of Oz?"

To get a handle on this, you can read Money and Politics in the Land of Oz By Quentin P. Taylor.  Below is an excerpt from the Taylor paper:

"Dorothy, the protagonist of the story, represents an individualized ideal of the American people. She is each of us at our best-kind but self-respecting, guileless but levelheaded, wholesome but plucky. She is akin to Everyman, or, in modern parlance, “the girl next door.” Dorothy lives in Kansas, where virtually everything-the treeless prairie, the sun-beaten grass, the paint-stripped house, even Aunt Em and Uncle Henry-is a dull, drab, lifeless gray. This grim depiction reflects the forlorn condition of Kansas in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when a combination of scorching droughts, severe winters, and an invasion of grasshoppers reduced the prairie to an uninhabitable wasteland. The result for farmers and all who depended on agriculture for their livelihood was devastating. Many ascribed their misfortune to the natural elements, called it quits, and moved on. Others blamed the hard times on bankers, the railroads, and various middlemen who seemed to profit at the farmers’ expense. Angry victims of the Kansas calamity also took aim at the politicians, who often appeared indifferent to their plight. Around these economic and political grievances, the Populist movement coalesced.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Populism spread rapidly throughout the Midwest and into the South, but Kansas was always the site of its most popular and radical elements. In 1890, Populist candidates began winning seats in state legislatures and Congress, and two years later Populists in Kansas gained control of the lower house of the state assembly, elected a Populist governor, and sent a Populist to the U.S. Senate. The twister that carries Dorothy to Oz symbolizes the Populist cyclone that swept across Kansas in the early 1890s. Baum was not the first to use the metaphor. Mary E. Lease, a fire-breathing Populist orator, was often referred to as the “Kansas Cyclone,” and the free-silver movement was often likened to a political whirlwind that had taken the nation by storm. Although Dorothy does not stand for Lease, Baum did give her (in the stage version) the last name “Gale”-a further pun on the cyclone metaphor.

The name of Dorothy’s canine companion, Toto, is also a pun, a play on teetotaler. Prohibitionists were among the Populists’ most faithful allies, and the Populist hope William Jennings Bryan was himself a “dry.” As Dorothy embarks on the Yellow Brick Road, Toto trots “soberly” behind her, just as the Prohibitionists soberly followed the Populists.

When Dorothy’s twister-tossed house comes to rest in Oz, it lands squarely on the wicked Witch of the East, killing her instantly. The startled girl emerges from the abode to find herself in a strange land of remarkable beauty, whose inhabitants, the diminutive Munchkins, rejoice at the death of the Witch. The Witch represents eastern financial-industrial interests and their gold-standard political allies, the main targets of Populist venom. Midwestern farmers often blamed their woes on the nefarious practices of Wall Street bankers and the captains of industry, whom they believed were engaged in a conspiracy to “enslave” the “little people,” just as the Witch of the East had enslaved the Munchkins. Populists viewed establishment politicians, including presidents, as helpless pawns or willing accomplices. Had not President Cleveland bowed to eastern bankers by repealing the Silver Purchase Act in 1893, thus further restricting much-needed credit? Had not McKinley (prompted by the wealthy industrialist Mark Hanna) made the gold standard the centerpiece of his campaign against Bryan and free silver?"
Now an excerpt from a book by Irivin B. Tucker:
"Gold is always a fascinating story: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900 and this children's tale has been interpreted as an allegory for political and economic events of the 1890s. For example, the Yellow Brick Road represents the gold standard, Oz in the title is an abbreviation for ounce, Dorothy is the naive public, Emerald City symbolizes Washington, D.C., the Tin Woodman represents the industrial worker, the Scarecrow is the farmer, and the Cyclone is a metaphor for a political revolution. In the end, Dorothy discovers magical powers in her silver shoes (changed to ruby in the 1939 film) to find her way home and not the fallacy of the Yellow Brick Road. Although the author of the story, L. Frank Baum, never stated it was his intention, it can be argued that the issue of the story concerns the election of 1896. Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan (the Cowardly Lion) supported fixing the value of the dollar to both gold and silver (bimetallism), but Republican William McKinley (the Wicked Witch) advocated using only the gold standard. Since McKinley won, the United States remained on the Yellow Brick Road."
But not everyone agrees with this. Economist Bradley Hansen wrote an article titled The Fable of the Allegory: The Wizard of Oz in Economics in the Journal of Economic Education in 2002. Here is his conclusion:
"Rockoff noted that the empirical evidence that Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an allegory was slim, but he compared an allegorical interpretation to a model and suggested that “economists should not have any difficulty accepting, at least provisionally, an elegant but controversial model” (Rockoff 1990, 757). He was right—we did not have any difficulty accepting it. Despite Rockoff’s warning, we appear to have accepted the story wholeheartedly rather than provisionally, simply because of its elegance. It is as difficult to prove that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was not a monetary allegory as it is to prove that it was. In the end, we will never know for certain what Baum was thinking when he wrote the book. I suggest that the vast majority of the evidence weighs heavily against the allegorical interpretation. It should be remembered that no record exists that Baum ever acknowledged any political meanings in the story and that no one even suggested such an interpretation until the 1960s. There certainly does not seem to be sufficient evidence to overwhelm Baum’s explicit statement in the introduction of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that his sole purpose was to entertain children and not to impress upon them some moral. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great story. Telling students that the Populist movement was like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does seem to catch their attention. It may be a useful pedagogical tool to illuminate the debate on bimetallism, but we should stop telling our students that it was written for that purpose."
I found a review of the book in the NY Times from 1900 and it does not mention anything about OZ having political or economic meaning. The book was also made into a musical a few years later and none of the reviews of the musical mention any political or economic meaning.