Philadelphia's Shrine to Monetary Policy ; New Exhibition Teaches Public What It Needs to Know about the Federal Reserve

Article excerpt

On July 4, more than 10,000 visitors crammed into the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, after its nationally televised inaugural ceremony earlier in the day.

Two days earlier, economists, bankers, and monetary-policy wonks gathered at a more low-key opening across the street.

Tucked into the lobby of the fortress-like Federal Reserve Bank, the interactive "Money in Motion" exhibition is now open for business. Although it's just a stone's throw from the Constitution Center, the boutique museum is definitely off the beaten path.

Vivienne Ehret, owner of the Uniquely Philadelphia tours, hadn't caught word of it. "But I'll make note of it," she promises after hearing about the museum in the heart of the historic district.

Still, about 100 visitors wander in each day. And few are interest-rate junkies or Alan Greenspan groupies. Some are passing time until their tour of the Constitution Center begins. While others, like Nick DeMarco of New Jersey, come in to get away from the sun.

Mr. DeMarco, a consultant, says he doesn't often read the business pages. "I'm just a poor guy making my way," he says. Nonetheless, he spent half an hour on a recent Saturday playing economic-trivia games and sharpening his eye for counterfeit bills.

DeMarco says videos and displays that explain how the regional Federal Reserve banks deliver money to commercial banks and process checks, make the Fed seem more relevant to his daily life. "Any doubts I had about guys sitting around smoking cigars and chatting were dispelled," he says.

The exhibition is not the only shrine to monetary policy in the United States: Similar exhibits are in at least seven other cities, including Cleveland, Kansas City, and San Francisco.

But creating an economics exhibit that appeals to fifth graders, economists, and everyone in-between isn't easy, says Faith Goldstein, the vice president of public affairs at the Philadelphia Fed.

One of the more eye-catching elements, the "In & Out" exhibit, explains how money is circulated and debunks a common assumption that the Fed prints money. (That's the job of the US Treasury.) The Fed distributes currency to commercial banks, and destroys it after it becomes too worn. A 25-foot tower of $100 million in shredded money and a sealed block of $1.7 million worth of $5 bills helps put into perspective the amount of money that passes through the Philadelphia Fed.

But explaining monetary policy in layman's terms - and making it interesting - is more difficult. …