The Driver

Antony — October 25, 2011

The Victoria Libertarian Book Club’s latest book is The Driver by Garet Garrett. The book is set in the aftermath of the Panic of 1893, and opens with the narrator reporting on the scene during a march on Washington by a ragtag group of protesters known as “Coxey’s Army”. The group, composed mostly of unemployed labourers, was marching on Washington to demand political intervention to deal with the economic crisis. Their mission is summed up in this quote:

And for what purpose? Merely this: to demand from Congress a law by which unlimited prosperity and human happiness might be established on earth

The march, as described in the novel, seemed bizarre and surreal. I was thus surprised to learn that Coxey’s Army was a real historical event.

I was struck by how the marchers portrayed in the novel seem so similar to the current “Occupy Wall Street” protests. They are scandalized by seeming corporate excesses, they cannot understand why there are so many unemployed while infrastructure crumbles, they favour massive public works programmes, and advocate inflation of the currency as a path to prosperity. It’s amazing how the rhetoric and arguments of the present day “Occupy” protesters are so similar to those of Coxey’s Army 120 years ago.

Another interesting anecdote is that, like the book’s narrator, a real-life observer of Coxey’s march was L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This book is full of economic symbols on issues of the time: the yellow brick road representing the gold standard, and Dorothy’s silver shoes (changed to ruby in the movie to showcase Technicolor) represent silver, the tin man is the industrial worker, and the straw man the farmer. These allegorical elements are explored in the Money Masters film “The Secret of Oz”.

The historical economic issues mentioned in the book are interesting on their own merits but also have fascinating parallels to our current economic turmoil.  I look forward to reading more, and hope to provide more blog reports as we read our way through the book.

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