Mary Poppins Bank Run

The 1964 Disney film “Mary Poppins”, starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, also demonstrates how a run on a fractional reserve bank works. In one scene, the bank manager sings about funding imperial projects like ‘railways in Africa’ and ‘dams in Egypt.’ The bank then snatches tuppence from a young boy who then shouts, “Give me my money back!” This prompts other bank customers to be concerned about why the bank manager won’t give his money back, and they begin demanding theirs, too, leading to the bank closing the withdrawal counters.

With the withdrawal counters closed, the bank accidentally spills a huge pile of gold coins on the floor, a subtle suggestion, perhaps, to help you realise they do have your money really. As long as all depositors don’t want their money back simultaneously, banks are fine. Trust is key.

The timing of this film is in itself interesting, if one digs a bit deeper. 1964 was a time when the public was beginning to have doubts about American superiority and dominance and with just reason. In 1963, the USA has 93 million silver dollars as security against silver certificates, but by 1964, it had dropped to 22 million. Also, the death of a president in 1963, one who had opposed the selling off of the nation’s silver reserves at $1.29 an ounce (it would be $50 an ounce 16 years later), was another factor in monetary change. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the coinage act, reducing silver content in coins to 40% for half dollars and making the smaller coins, nickels and dimes, an inferior cupro-nickel alloy. Coin collectors and hoarders may be blamed, but we can guess the truth.

In reality, this story is little different to how the Roman Empire and countless others effected their thefts from the populace. Whereas once the bread and circus charade probably involved Gladiators wearing banners proclaiming the newly-debased copper solidus was “as good as gold”, we now have direct imagery hitting the brain. Disney certainly has a chequered history with possible abuse of it’s power that is worthy of special investigation. Then do you remember how 3 is the Magic Number? It seems it is for Disney too.

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