Central banks are adopting new methods to engage and educate the public about their mission, including cartoons, balloon artists and bouncy castles.
The Wall Street Journal
It’s the day before the Federal Reserve Bank, or “The Fed” as it is known to its friends, releases the “Beige Book” and staff members are running around like Alan Greenspan with his head cut off, trying to get things ready. The cotton candy machine is on the fritz, the microphone to the karaoke machine is missing, and the “Keep Inflation in Check!” t-shirts have a typo that some Japanese may find offensive, unless “Infration” is a recently-formulated economic concept.
I yearn for the old days, when Paul Volcker was chairman. Now THERE was a guy who didn’t give a flying you-know-what whether anyone understood his “mission.” He just went out and . . . did it. And he didn’t need a mime to explain it to innumerate business reporters.
But all that has changed, changed utterly, as either Yogi Berra or William Butler Yeats once said. Now we have to make nice to kids who come to visit us in Washington, D.C., or any of our twelve other outlets conveniently located around the U.S. of A. You walk into the Kansas City Fed, you get a plastic cow. Boston? For reasons lost in the mists of time, a little pot of baked beans. San Francisco–a brown tab of LSD. That’s the NEW Federal Reserve for you; the customer comes first, as long as he/she/it doesn’t cause a spike in inflation by misallocating liquidity to over-valued assets.
I unlock the chain that bars the gates to the Federal Reserve Midway–the Inflation Roller Coaster, the Liquidity Water Slide, the Tunnel of Deferred Gratification, where kids get prizes for delaying children until they get married, and don’t get married until they have a job, and stay in school until they graduate. Talk about fun!
It’s our first customers of the day, a boy with a runny nose and his little sister.
“What can the Federal Reserve do for you today, kiddo?”
“Is the Bouncy Castle open yet?”
“Not just yet, it’s too slippery.”
“Why is it slippery?” his sister asks hesitantly.
“The morning dew.”
“What did the morning do?” she asks.
“Not d-o ‘do,’ d-e-w.”
“Like Mountain Dew, the carbonated soft drink favored by snowboarders and other slacker dudes?” the boy asks. Apparently he’s been watching the X-Games.
“No,” I say. “Tiny drops of water that form on cool surfaces at night, when atmospheric vapor condenses. The sun needs to get a little higher in the sky to burn it off–so you won’t slip.”
Just as I issue this prohibition, who should walk up behind me but Lael Brainard–one of the current governors of the Fed.
“Excuse me,” Brainard says as she brushes past the kids and enters the castle.
“Hey–take your shoes off!” a grizzled Fed carney yells at her, and she stops to pull off her Betsey Johnson sandals. At $69 a pair at Macy’s, they’re a beacon of price stability in a market sector–women’s fashion–that is frequently subject to intense inflationary pressures.
“How come she gets to go in and we don’t?” the boy asks.
“Well, it’s like this,” I begin as I get down on my haunches so I can look the boy squarely in the eye. “That nice lady is a very important official, and she’s a grown-up, so we trust her to make wise bouncing choices and not go too high or ‘double-bounce’ and set off repercussions that could have long-term adverse effects. You kids–you’re the hope of the future, but if left to your own devices . . .”
“We don’t have devices,” the boy says, “our mom says we aren’t old enough.”
“Not that kind of device,” I say, struggling–like Flaubert–to find le mot juste. “I mean, if you don’t have adult supervision, you might land on top of each other and hurt yourselves.”
The kids seem mollified when Jerome “Jay” Powell–Fed chairman–butts in and spoils the calm I’ve achieved by spreading mature oil on youth’s stormy waters.
“Hey Brainard,” he shouts, “I’m going to bounce you to the moon!”
Powell climbs in the castle and the sense of unfairness that the stymied kids feel has become palpable even to the guy taking the tickets.
“Jay–those kids were here first,” he says to Powell as the former lawyer/investment banker lands on the seat of his pants, taking things slowly at first so as not to trigger an asset deflation in his corner of the real estate sector.
“Get ’em a balloon animal, or maybe a comic book,” Powell snaps. The Fed gets its revenues from fees that it charges banks, not Congressional appropriations, and that independence sometimes causes its governors to be insensitive to political considerations.
The little girl starts to sob quietly, but her spring shower of tears turns to a monsoon when Randal Quarles, the third Fed governor, jumps into the Bouncy Castle, touching off a chain reaction among the three adults that has them giggling uncontrollably as they lose their balance and their footing.
“I wanna go IN!” the little girl says, and she breaks free of her brother and climbs over the Captains of Finance to find a spot where she can bounce undisturbed by the flying bodies of the three larger beings.
“I guess you can go in too,” I say to her brother, and with a sharp drop in the average age of the Bouncy House inhabitants, the jumps aren’t as high but the overall fun quotient–measured by smiles per bounce–increases dramatically.
“Adult swim is over,” I shout to the governors, who grumble a bit but reluctantly emerge, put their shoes back on and turn their attention back to less serious matters, such as regulating the money supply of the world’s largest economy.
“You know,” I say after they’ve caught their breath and searched around for change shaken from their pockets in order to come up with purchase price of snow cones, “we got the Bouncy Castle for kids, not for adults.”
“You’re only young once,” Powell says as checks the prices at a face-painting booth, “and by the time we finish our fourteen-year terms, we’ll be all grown up.”