Obtain free Life & Arts updates
We’ll ship you a myFT Every day Digest electronic mail rounding up the newest Life & Arts information each morning.
Above the Viking swords and skeletons, throughout from the enchanting show of classic dollhouses, Denmark’s Nationwide Museum incorporates a human-scale hamster wheel. Guests might climb inside, seize the controls and slowly, arduously, begin to stroll and jog. A digital display screen turns the treadmill right into a pizza-delivery recreation, providing the possibility to gather some digital money alongside the best way. 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 liked 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, pictures 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 one million quid on a Hebridean island in 1994. (Alas, I observed no dialogue of the true worth of what Cauty and Drummond have been destroying; curious readers might choose up a duplicate of my e book The Undercover Economist Strikes Again if they’re determined to know.)
All in all, KA-CHING! might be the most effective 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 organising such an establishment, however it appears that evidently few curators agree. Whereas museums of science, know-how and pure historical past adorn nice cities everywhere in the world, museums of the financial system are uncommon.
A part of the issue is that economics tends to check giant, diffuse phenomena by way of an summary lens. Museums flourish when there’s one thing thrilling to take 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 in regards to the constructing’s structure, the heroes and slave-trading villains who paced its corridors and, after all, cash and banknotes and an amazing huge gold bar inside a Perspex field — you’ll be able to attain in by way of a gap and attempt to choose it up. (Copenhagen’s KA-CHING! exhibit provides virtually precisely the identical Perspex-cased gold-bar-hefting expertise.)
A brand new e book, 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 exhibit financial concepts past cash. There’s an exhibit about alternative and alternative value, an eight-player simulation of a buying and selling pit, a recreation of barter. It sounds enjoyable, even when the museum does additionally include a kind of accursed lift-the-gold-bar reveals.
Might we do higher? Maybe. Once I created my books and radio collection Fifty Issues That Made The Fashionable Financial system, my intention 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 undecided 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 Undertaking” — a bodily report 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 organize a mortgage from the V&A.
In that 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 quick 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 improvement of contracts, accounts, arithmetic and writing itself, all in service of an more and more advanced city financial system.
Scarcely cheaper can 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 monetary manias, however a steam locomotive from York’s Nationwide Railway Museum is likely to be extra traditionally correct. It’s also one of many few reveals which may beat even a T-Rex for the power 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 aspect, Norman Borlaug’s starvation-fighting dwarf wheat, and an interactive show displaying how lengthy an individual has to work to afford an hour’s value of fine gentle, from the oil lamp (days) to the LED (seconds).
There’s extra we may do, I’m positive. So should you occur to have an empty exhibition area, buddies in South Kensington and one million quid to burn, we should always discuss.
Tim Harford’s youngsters’s e book, ‘The Reality Detective’ (Wren & Rook), is now accessible
Observe @FTMag on Twitter to search out out about our newest tales first