Parallel Computing in the Computer Science Curriculum > Workshops > SIGCSE 2012 > SIGCSE 2012 > We Buy Anything: an in-class activity demonstrating the Fed's response to the financial crisis of 2008

We Buy Anything: an in-class activity demonstrating the Fed's response to the financial crisis of 2008

Lucy Malakar, Lorain County Community College,
Laura Wind-Norton, Nicolet College,
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This activity engages students and underscores how quickly and dramatically the Federal Reserve System responded to the financial crisis of 2008. By having students assume the role of various economics players: from commercial banks to foreign governments, this activity highlights how the Fed's operations changed during the crisis. Since the crisis and the adoption of a 0% Federal Funds Rate target, the Fed has shifted toward 'balance sheet' policies.

Learning Goals

1. Students will apply the concepts of modern monetary policy tools to a macroeconomic crisis situation.
2. Students will show the effects of expansionary and contractionary monetary policy.

Context for Use

Students should have a basic understanding of the Federal Reserve system and the basic tools of monetary policy. Students should have been introduced to the Fed's balance sheet. Background of the financial crisis will help to set the stage for the activity. This activity is designed for community college economics students in small to medium class sizes (up to 50 students) in a face-to-face setting.

Description and Teaching Materials

Steps in the activity:

Teaching Materials:
- Play money (total amount to correspond to amount of assets that players need to sell). There are a number of online sites that allow you to create and print your own money in the denominations of your choosing.
- Notecards/ sheets of papers representing different assets for Fed to purchase: (see sample template)
o Treasury bills held by banks
o Mortgage-backed securities held by banks/investment companies/others
o Corporate bonds
o Foreign central banks selling currencies
- Scenario for students to understand the needs of their organization (bank, investment firm, corporation, etc)
- Whiteboard or similar to track the balance sheet of the Fed
- Timeline for the financial crisis (to put activity into context)
Student role scenarios (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Apr5 13)
Traditional and New Monetary Policy Tools (Microsoft Word 43kB Apr5 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students can be grouped to make the activity more manageable. Instructor should meet with each group to insure they understand the crisis their institution faces. Remind students that the Fed doesn't really do cash transactions; reserves are added electronically. To expand the activity, some students could be made to be unwilling lenders that have to be approached first to increase the pressure to find a way for the institution to finance its needs.


Students will write a brief reflection about what they learned in the exercise about the Federal Reserve's role as the lender of last resort and its effect on the macroeconomy. A possible prompt for the writing: Based on today's activity, write a paragraph about what the Fed did as a response to the financial crisis and what the Fed was trying to accomplish. An instructor could also use a "muddiest point" assessment: Based on today's activity, what part of the Fed's response to the financial crisis do you still have questions about? This can serve as a basis for a review activity or a follow-up lecture.

References and Resources

Federal Reserve Crisis Response
This can help the instructor give the background on the financial crisis. It answers the basic questions regarding what happened in the crisis.

Timeline for the Federal Reserve response to crisis
Good visual description of the Fed's policy response.