My Recollections of the 1970s
By David Henderson
Bryan’s question is tough to answer. In the culture and in the media, things are so much better now, in the sense that the mainstream media feel the need to contend with libertarian and free-market ideas. They didn’t feel that need back in the 1970s. In the political and economic arena, it was worse in some ways and better in others.
Ways it was better.
1. Short-term slavery for young American males was ended in 1973. That’s huge.
2. As has been mentioned, the 1970s ended with deregulation of trucking, railroads, and airlines.
3. The U.S. government was temporarily humbled by its loss in Vietnam and for a few years did not intervene nearly as much in the rest of the world. I remember being a commenter on WXXI in Rochester, NY after President Carter’s 1979 State of the Union speech. He had bragged that not one member of the U.S. military had died in a military conflict the previous year. Although in my comments I was critical of pretty much everything he had done in domestic policy, I gave him credit for that one.
4. There was a growing free-market, anti-regulation movement among economists, even mainstream economists, starting in about 1977.
Ways it was worse.
1. Nixon had imposed price controls so that when the OPEC price increase hit in late 1973 and his price controls restrained the price of crude oil (“old” oil sold for $4.25 a barrel while the world price exceeded $11) and the prices of refined products. Result: shortages, line-ups, and a partial Sovietization of the U.S. economy. Ford continued Nixon’s policies and signed the CAFE bill which is still haunting us. Carter pushed on by regulating temperature of buildings and imposing many other energy restrictions.
2. Inflation was out of control, hitting high single digits and occasionally low double digits. It was throwing middle-income people into mid-30 percentage points marginal tax brackets. Many mainstream economists worried in the late 1970s that the wheels were coming off. This was not due to higher oil prices.