Experience the Fed Experience
Saint Greenspan was left out of the exhibit, sadly
When I read the words "Fed Experience" I imagine a dirty basement full of greasy money-printing machines spitting out $100s. Instead, the Richmond Fed is trying to give us an even better experience, including the chance to check out a solid gold bar and $400,000 in $1 bills. God, times like this I really wish I lived closer to my favorite Fed bank, if for no other reason than to show up at the opening in my "Bernanke 00%" t-shirt to pipe up with anti-Fed observations meant to enlighten the little middle schoolers on a field trip to see the Fed's newest exhibit. If nothing else, it would be a blast to pace in front of the bank in an "The End is Extremely Fucking Nigh" sandwich board handing out modified Fed comic books and free hand sanitizer to get that Dirty Fed stink off visitors' hands as they exit. It's like cutting garlic, and takes days to get out of hair, skin or clothes. I've had a different sort of "Fed Experience" so just trust me on that one.
My first inclination (without having seen most of it) is to call this a shrine to fake money and central banking - after all, $3.8 million and several years of planning went in to it. Maybe Richmond was just sick of their old bootsie money museum and wanted something fancy like their colleagues in San Francisco who try to get folks to check out their currency display with the line "So cinch up your saddle or fasten your seatbelt. We think you'll find a rich and fascinating story. After all, who doesn't like stories about money?"
For the record, I've never been to the SF Fed's exhibit. A) I am probably not welcome and B) I am morally opposed to worshiping at the altar of fake money (or real money for that matter, I have not forgotten what went down in the Bible with that gold bull).
I will throw the Fed a reluctant bone for trying to reach the unwashed masses through one-sided Twitter accounts, blogs, consumer awareness campaigns, and $4 million money shrines but it's not taking it far enough. That glosses over the fundamental problem; you can take middle schoolers to a money museum and teach them the history class version of the Great Depression with a touch of Bernanke nostalgia to give it a Fed twist but I guarantee you each and every one of those kids comes out of there with a bag of shred and absolutely no additional insight into remedial economics. They still don't know how dollars in their wallets work and many of them will end up strapped into the yoke of credit shortly after their 19th birthdays (oh sorry, 22nd birthdays now that the Fed was nice enough to force credit card rules to change).
Anyway, the Richmond Times-Dispatch is close enough to check out Richmond Fed's new "Experience" before it opens Tuesday:
Larger and more technologically up-to-date than its predecessor, The Money Museum that closed in 2006, the new exhibit also has a much broader scope. It offers an interactive journey through the central bank's history, its role in the money system, and how the everyday choices of regular people add up to move the larger economy.
"We are really trying to take some of the intimidation out of learning about the economy," said Melanie Rose, economics education manager for the Richmond Fed.
The 6-foot-long stack of cash and the 27½-pound gold bar are more than just a spectacle aimed at enticing money-curious visitors. They have an educational purpose.
The big box of $400,000, for example, offers a lesson on inflation, the general increase in prices over time that the Fed seeks to moderate through its command of the nation's money supply.
Today, $400,000 will buy a house, or 5,715 pairs of shoes, or 320,000 bottles of Coca-Cola, the display on the case of cash states. Fifty years ago, you could get a lot more for that $400,000 -- about 4 houses, 22,857 pairs of shows or 4 million bottles of Coca-Cola.
The gold bar, currently worth about $480,000, hearkens back to the time when the dollar was backed by gold, a standard which no longer applies for reasons that the attentive visitor will discover.
I'll save the visitor a trip: it's easier to inflate our way out of disaster without a gold leash around our money. Duh.
When briefed on the pending opening, WC Varones astutely pointed out that the motto of the exhibit is "where you and the economy come together" - does that mean there will be private booths available? Some of us have a Dirty Fed fetish you know.
In fairness to the Richmond Fed, they did start visualizing this in 2006 when everything was still supposedly OK (although it was obviously beginning to take a disconcerting turn, obviously far beyond the scope of what our friends at the Fed could see) so this isn't exactly a shrine to the dollar built while the dollar burns. We're still waiting patiently for that and hey, at least Richmond will have a gold bar to cash in when it does.
See you next Tuesday, Richmond. Good luck with that opening. Let's hope it isn't at all choppy nor uneven like this supposed recovery we're in.
Oh yeah, there's video from the Times-Dispatch:
"The goal is to increase transparency"