Okay, let’s play a word association game.
I say “faceless government headquarters,” you say…
Yes, that’s right: surprisingly strong TripAdvisor reviews!
No joke. The Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve is apparently a real tourist-pleaser. So when I had a free morning in Dallas this February, I gave it a shot. A daunting security system, like the kind of airlock you’d need on an intergenerational space voyage, led into a mostly-empty lobby. Only two other tourists joined me.
And let me tell you, it was the other 7+ billion people on earth’s loss. The building housed a nifty museum on the Fed’s history, as well as the general topic of macroeconomics (which I find about as intuitive and graspable as general relativity).
In particular, I loved this visualization of inflation. Rotate the wheel, and you change the decade, revealing how prices rose (or, in some cases, stagnated):
Inflation is strange enough in itself. But the uneven way that prices rise – coffee and clothing and eggs each following their own unique trajectory – is even stranger. Just one of many “real-world” subtleties that we elide in our teaching.
When I mentioned this exhibit to my father, he pointed me towards an impressive project by a colleague of his: The Billion Prices Project, which creates a day-by-day inflation tracker via crowd-sourcing. A billion prices, it turns out, is about the level of nuance you want!
This strikes me as the raw material for a killer math project. Some brainstorms:
- Mild: Pick 5 goods. Graph their changing prices over time. Discuss what you notice and what you wonder.
- Medium: Pick 5 pairs of goods. Graph their changing prices over time, as well as the change in their ratio. Discuss the significance.
- Spicy: Design your own inflation metric by picking a basket of goods. Compare your metric to the consumer price index over time. Discuss their relative merits.