Originally created 04/12/98

Federal Reserve Bank explains trade through comic book



NEW YORK -- Holy exchange rate, Batman! The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has done another comic book.

The Story of Foreign Trade and Exchange is the latest in a running series of educational handouts the bank publishes to explain complex economic topics to America's high school and college students.

Though it may not have the blood-chilling villains of the X-Men or Spider-Man, the latest book does have plenty of humorous situations that help explain arcane concepts like opportunity cost and comparative advantage.

In describing foreign exchange, a waiter in Germany tells an American not to pay his bill in dollars. "That's a switch," the American says, "you're giving me a tip."

The comic also uses the mythical country of Jeansland, which has pockets of poverty, a seat of power and "the great waistland." The currency in Jeansland is -- what else -- the Denim.

"You can make the subject more interesting in a comic style form than you can in a textbook," said Ed Steinberg, staff director at the bank, which is part of the Federal Reserve system. "You can also convey the points you are trying to make more effectively."

The comics, which the Fed has been making since the 1950s, have been popular with instructors. Past comics on money and banks are in their fourth and fifth printings -- meaning that about a million copies of each have been used in classrooms.

Nancy Wulwick used the comic on monetary policy in an economics course she taught last year at Binghamton University.

"It had a very clear description of how money is created," she said. "It was done better than any of the textbooks."

Students laughed when she passed out the comic, she said, but added, "I had quite a few exam questions on it. It's reasonably sophisticated."

A foreign trade comic was available long before the new one came out, but the old trade comic was out of date with a heavy emphasis on oil imports, Mr. Steinberg said. The new book stresses products that hit home with youth -- jeans and compact discs.

A ninth comic book in the series, on inflation, is due out in a few weeks, Mr. Steinberg said. A 10th book, on consumer credit, will be out later this year or early next year.

Up to 35 copies of the comics are free. After that, they cost 25 cents each, with exceptions for classroom use.

Copies of "The Story of Foreign Trade and Exchange" or other comics can be obtained by calling the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at (212) 720-6134 or writing to the bank at 33 Liberty St., New York, NY 10045.