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Where Teenagers Run The Economy

Future central bankers of Ridgefield High

Future central bankers of Ridgefield High NPR hide caption

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Every spring, high school students descend on the headquarters of the New York Federal Reserve, a few blocks from Wall Street in downtown Manhattan. They compete to see who does the best impression of a central banker.

The High School Fed Challenge is a big deal. Schools like Montclair High in Montclair, New Jersey have multiple rounds of tryouts just to get on the team. Then they practice for months.

Montclair won the championship last year. This year, their challengers include a team from Ridgefield, Ct. A team so steeped in Fedspeak, that they frequently find themselves using Feddy words like "robust" and "well-anchored."

Here's how it works. Fifteen teams go before real live Federal Reserve economists. They have to diagnose the economy and set Fed policy.

The students are clearly very good at parroting Ben Bernanke. But they also seem to have a solid grasp of what the economy means for their own lives.

Kevin O'Rourke, a member of the Ridgefield team, pointed out that the Fed has said it will hold down interest rates until 2014.

"We don't get out of college until 2016," he said. "We're fine going through college with a bad economy, as long as we get out and we have jobs."

Obviously, putting the words "Fed Challenge" on a college application looks impressive. But there's also a sense that understanding all this stuff really matters right now. In the finals, the students answer questions about things the people who run the Fed are debating right now — from quantitative easing to the outlook for inflation.

In the end, Montclair won — again.

The team from Ridgefield got an honorable mention trophy to bring back to the school. They said they probably wouldn't put it in the case with all the sports trophies. Instead, it's more likely to go in the economics room, where it's more likely to be appreciated.