Historical Echoes: Whip Inflation Now ... and Then
In October 1974, with consumer inflation running at more than 10 percent annually, President Gerald Ford gave a now famous speech (watch video or read text) in which he proclaimed: “There is only one point on which all advisers have agreed: We must whip inflation right now.”
“Whip Inflation Now” was not just a speech—it was a public relations campaign to enlist American citizens to hold back the increases in wages and prices of the 1970s, supposedly by increasing personal savings and taming spending habits. The symbol of the campaign was the large round red button with bold, white uppercase letters: W I N.
According to the American Presidents blog, “The campaign did not work as President Ford had hoped. Inflation remained a threat to the economy well into the Reagan presidency … the pins were widely mocked and it gave Ford’s opponents an easy target for criticism.” In fact, by the late 1970s inflation got a lot worse, as the “Inflation” section of PBS’s “The First Measured Century” explains.
Macroblog has posted a discussion about WIN in Was WIN a Loser? in which Dave Altig debates whether the campaign really was a failure. Part one of the blog post points to the need, when discussing WIN, to distinguish between inflation and increases in the relative cost of living. Part two is a partial defense of Ford and his then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Arthur Burns, who were at the time challenged by “trying to learn how to conduct monetary policy in the aftermath of the collapse of the Bretton Woods global monetary system."
Nevertheless, the WIN buttons were a big deal, and the image invaded the popular culture. According to the blogger Rick Kaempfer, in a lunch meeting between President Ford and George Harrison (the Beatle, not George L. Harrison, the former President of the New York Fed!), the President gave the Beatle a WIN button, and George Harrison gave the President an OM (Hindu mantra word expressing creation) button.
The “WIN” idea carried over to Ford’s run for President in 1975. At that time, there was a campaign button depicting the character Fonzie from “Happy Days,” with Gerald Ford’s face and wearing a “WIN” button with the slogan “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
The image of the red button with the bold letters resurfaces in more modern discussions about inflation. In May 2003, Stephen Cecchetti (former Research Director of the New York Fed) wrote: “I‘m thinking of going out and having a bunch of new red and white WIN buttons made and handing them out to the people attending next Tuesday’s FOMC meeting.” One blogger in 2005 wrote that “Stop Inflation Now” would have been a better slogan (just changing the first letter on the button).
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.