History buffs have their history museums, art connoisseurs have their galleries and scientists have their science museums, but economists and financiers are seemingly at a loss. Yale School of Management professor Martin Shubik plans to change that.
Almost four years ago, Shubik and several colleagues created the online Museum of Money and Financial Institutions in an effort to increase economic literacy for children and adults alike. This Internet museum, at www.museumofmoney.org, was the first step in a project that calls for the development of a traveling exhibit about economics, and eventually the construction of a bricks-and-mortar museum in Manhattan on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
The online museum features virtual exhibits exploring the workings of the economic system, the history of money and religion, the emergence of economic institutions in Mesopotamia and a collection of economics-related computer games.
Shubik said he created the museum because he sees a need for more financial education.
“Economic life and financial life are a part of everybody’s experience and need,” Shubik said. “There are major museums of history, of natural history, of science and engineering — but no major museum dedicated to economics or finance.”
The virtual museum is run in collaboration with the International Center of Finance at the SOM. Its director, professor William Goetzmann, said the project is visionary, but fits in light of Yale’s historical ties to economics and finance.
“Martin Shubik is one of the most important theorists on the role of money in the economy and it is great that he is pursuing this so actively,” Goetzmann said.
Shubik said the project helps counter what he characterized as the general population’s ignorance about finance and economics.
“People think a check is cashed by magic and a credit card is operated by magic,” Shubik said. “If you ask yourself, or anyone else, the steps involved in cashing a check, the majority of people do not know.”
Robert Lucas, a member of the Science Board of the Museum of Money and a Noble Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, said he thinks the museum fills a national void.
“It takes some insight to present economics to people in such a way that it catches their attention and teaches them something,” Lucas said.
The online museum currently is raising funds for a traveling exhibit to be called “Economica.” Designed after the popular IBM exhibit “Mathematica,” the exhibit is estimated to cost between $4 million and $6 million. Shubik said he hopes to begin constructing the exhibit within the next year. The standing museum in New York is expected to cost about $100 million, he said.
If the project can raise enough money, it hopes to build the standing museum on the floor of the NYSE, as the stock exchange is expected to switch to computerized training in the coming years, Shubik said.
“The association of the New York Stock Exchange with American Industry and Finance is so natural,” Shubik said. “This will be a museum for the public who wants to learn about how insurance works, how social security works and what a pension plan is.”
The only other similar museum in the nation is the Museum of American Financial History in New York City, Shubik said. Although officials from this museum declined to comment, Shubik said that his museum would differentiate itself by incorporating exhibits on “practice” and “current institutions,” as opposed to focusing solely on financial history.
“We would have a hall of insurance, a hall dedicated to government and central banking, a hall dedicated to mutual funds, to hedge funds,” Shubik said, rattling off a roster of proposed exhibitions. “We would hopefully get the sponsorship of every different financial institution in the United States.”