Home economics What I’d put in my museum of the financial system

What I’d put in my museum of the financial system

What I’d put in my museum of the financial system


Above the Viking swords and skeletons, throughout from the enchanting show of classic dollhouses, Denmark’s Nationwide Museum accommodates a human-scale hamster wheel. Guests could climb inside, seize the controls and slowly, arduously, begin to stroll and jog. A digital display turns the treadmill right into a pizza-delivery recreation, providing the possibility to gather some digital money alongside the way in which.

As a illustration of the grinding repetitiveness of a gig financial system job, the subtext is clear. Until you’re aged 11, that’s. My son beloved it.

The hamster wheel is a centrepiece of an exhibition all about cash and the financial system: KA-CHING — Present Me the Cash! Together with cash and banknotes, it has interactive quizzes, photos of Damien Hirst’s “For The Love Of God” (that diamond-and-platinum cranium) and a video of musicians Jimmy Cauty and Invoice Drummond, aka The KLF, burning 1,000,000 quid on a Hebridean island in 1994. (Alas, I seen no dialogue of the true worth of what Cauty and Drummond had been destroying; curious readers could decide up a duplicate of my guide The Undercover Economist Strikes Again if they’re determined to know.)

All in all, KA-CHING! might be the perfect contender I’ve seen for a Museum of the Financial system. Then once more, there isn’t a lot competitors. I’ve lengthy fantasised about establishing such an establishment, however plainly few curators agree. Whereas museums of science, know-how and pure historical past adorn nice cities all around the world, museums of the financial system are uncommon.

A part of the issue is that economics tends to review massive, diffuse phenomena by way of an summary lens. Museums flourish when there’s one thing thrilling to have a look at, whether or not it’s a Spitfire or the skeleton of a T-Rex. Good luck placing “recession” or “funding mania” right into a glass show case. And so many economy-adjacent museums draw back from the central material.

The Financial institution of England Museum, for instance, is nice sufficient — spacious, elegant, free to enter — however its topic is basically the Financial institution of England itself. There are exhibitions concerning the constructing’s structure, the heroes and slave-trading villains who paced its corridors and, in fact, cash and banknotes and an incredible huge gold bar inside a Perspex field — you possibly can attain in by way of a gap and attempt to decide it up. (Copenhagen’s KA-CHING! exhibit provides nearly precisely the identical Perspex-cased gold-bar-hefting expertise.)

A brand new guide, Making Economics Public, features a chapter describing the Financial system Museum of the Federal Reserve Financial institution of St Louis. The Financial system Museum tries to debate and reveal financial concepts past cash. There’s an exhibit about alternative and alternative price, an eight-player simulation of a buying and selling pit, a recreation of barter. It sounds enjoyable, even when the museum does additionally comprise a kind of accursed lift-the-gold-bar reveals.

May we do higher? Maybe. Once I created my books and radio sequence Fifty Issues That Made The Trendy Financial system, my goal was to point out the hidden financial forces round us by refracting them by way of on a regular basis innovations. Not all of them examine favourably with a T-Rex, alas. I’m unsure how one would put “the welfare state” in a museum. Maybe a waxwork of William Beveridge would do?

Nor does the index fund lend itself to an exhibit, even when the thought was as soon as praised by the nice economist Paul Samuelson as an invention to face alongside “the wheel, the alphabet, Gutenberg printing, and wine and cheese”.

However different objects are extra promising. The V&A correctly acquired Thomas Thwaites’s “Toaster Venture” — a bodily file of his doomed makes an attempt to construct himself a working toaster, beginning with the seek for uncooked supplies. It brilliantly illustrates, by counterexample, the decentralised genius required to construct a mass-market product; maybe my nascent Museum of the Financial system may prepare a mortgage from the V&A.

If that’s the case, I’d additionally beg the Science Museum for his or her Moniac, an incredible hydraulic laptop designed to simulate the British financial system. I’d pair it with a short description of the lifetime of its inventor, Invoice Phillips, who had extra adventures than Indiana Jones.

Maybe somebody might be persuaded to provide a cuneiform pill from Mesopotamia; due to the work of archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat, we now imagine these tablets to exemplify the simultaneous growth of contracts, accounts, arithmetic and writing itself, all in service of an more and more advanced city financial system.

Scarcely cheaper could be a printer ink cartridge, the proper introduction to concepts resembling two-part pricing and switching prices.

A tulip may function a springboard for a dialogue of economic manias, however a steam locomotive from York’s Nationwide Railway Museum is likely to be extra traditionally correct. It is usually one of many few reveals which may beat even a T-Rex for the flexibility to encourage sheer awe.

As an instance the evils of capitalism, maybe a Bonsack machine — an invention to effectively produce the deadliest product in human historical past, the cigarette. And on the extra cheerful facet, Norman Borlaug’s starvation-fighting dwarf wheat, and an interactive show exhibiting how lengthy an individual has to work to afford an hour’s price of excellent mild, from the oil lamp (days) to the LED (seconds).

There’s extra we may do, I’m positive. So for those who occur to have an empty exhibition area, associates in South Kensington and 1,000,000 quid to burn, we should always speak.

Written for and first printed within the Monetary Occasions on 14 July 2023.

My first kids’s guide, The Reality Detective is now out there (not US or Canada but – sorry).

I’ve arrange a storefront on Bookshop within the United States and the United Kingdom. Hyperlinks to Bookshop and Amazon could generate referral charges.



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