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Economia in Forbes: July 25, 2011

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Image by Getty Images via @daylifemaking

Forbes: Debt Fight Is Teachable Moment

by Emily Lambert,  Jul. 25 2011
With the debt limit fight in Washington troubling financial markets and investors worldwide, Americans are getting a large lesson in politics – and an important one in financial fundamentals.

“It’s a reminder that all reckless financial actions have dire consequences both at the macro- and micro- economic level,” says Gail Vida Hamburg, a former journalist who has entered financial education space. “Neither the government nor each of us individually can sustain high-octane financial mismanagement for very long.”

That’s a surprisingly difficult point to communicate, but she’s an attempt. Vida Hamburg hopes to drive the point home by following the example of Body Worlds, the most successful museum exhibition of all time. Fourteen million people in the U.S. alone came to gawk at real human bodies that were pulled apart, preserved, and posed. In the process, they learned lessons about public health.

Vida Hamburg spent seven years as Director of Science Communications of Body Worlds and is using what she learned to create Economia: Money Matters, an exhibition that is in development and will open in northern California in March of next year. The final details should be announced soon, she says.

Just like Body Worlds demystified the body, she wants Economia to demystify money. Right now even professionals fail to understand some basics about the financial system  — from the workings of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to the role of hedgers and speculators trading at CME Group. “My banker told me, ‘I don’t know how the stock market works,” says Vida Hamburg.

Many Americans are so busy trying to stay afloat, they’re too scared to look at their bank accounts and make hard decisions about the future. So at the start of Economia, visitors will have a chance to let some of those worries out. They will type their fears into a computer, and a few minutes later each fear will be projected onto a wall. That’s to get people to say “ah, it’s universal. My fear is other peoples’ fear,” says Vida Hamburg.

The Body Worlds exhibit was on its face about anatomy, but it was on a deeper level about reaching human potential. It showed people that bodies are vulnerable but also strong and resilient. “People think it’s about the dead body, but I think it’s about life,” Vida Hamburg says about Body Worlds. “It creates an awakening in the visitor and inspires the visitor to live to his potential.”

And she thinks Americans, too, can be inspired. In Economia, she’ll have a display showing how Mark Zuckerburg, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey, among other billionaires, got to where they are today. She’s optimistic that education will help individuals and society.

Rendering of installation from Economia

“I have complete faith in the U.S. and the ability to improve. I think we need a lot more rational exuberance if we’re going to improve the economy.”