Just two months after becoming president and a month after pardoning Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford turned his attention to another challenge facing the country: high inflation.
The Republican president’s solution, unveiled in an October 8, 1974 speech to Congress, was Whip Inflation Now, or WIN — an enthusiastic White House effort.
The program called on companies to maintain or reduce prices and citizens to do their part by spending less and saving energy. It also included a host of proposed policy changes aimed at tackling inflation, such as a temporary 5% tax surtax on corporations and high-income earners, and a target to cut oil imports by $1 million. barrels per day in response to strong “cartel prices.
It didn’t go as planned. Even Ford administration officials told the New York Times privately that his plan would be “neutral”, that is, it would not impact inflation one way or another.
Members of the President’s Citizens Action Committee to Fight Inflation later acknowledged that WIN was considered too focused on advertising, and many Americans quickly scoffed at the program.
WATCH VIDEO: President Ford’s Inaugural Address, August 9, 1974
Ford quotes FDR’s response to the Great Depression
Ford outlined his plan in an October 8, 1974 speech, quoting a prominent Democratic President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the Great Depression: “The people of the United States have not failed. They want direct and vigorous action, and they have asked for discipline and direction under our leadership.
“Today,” Ford said, “although our economic difficulties come no closer to the emergency of 1933, the message from the American people is exactly the same.”
The new president inherited a problem that had been brewing since the 1960s, which his predecessors also tried to contain. President Lyndon B. Johnson, in a practice called “jawboning,” pressured corporations to avoid raising prices and pressured unions to limit their demands for higher wages. His successor, Nixon, tried to control inflation with wage and price controls in the early 1970s, but by 1974 it soared to 12%.
Toward the end of his speech, Ford looked down at a red and white button on his suit that read “WIN,” and called it a “symbol of this new mobilization that I wear on my lapel.” It bears the single word, ‘WIN.’ I think that says it all.
Ford’s plan included a personal appeal to Americans to fight inflation. He and his wife Betty Ford then signed a pledge to do their part to personally fight inflation. The commitment stated that they would “purchase, where possible, only those products and services priced at or below current levels.”
“Our inflation,” he added, “our public enemy No. 1, unless whipped, will destroy our country, our homes, our freedom, our property and finally our national pride as surely as anyone. what a well-armed enemy of war.”
The pitfalls of the diet
Key decision-makers in the Ford administration had doubts from the start. Alan Greenspan, who became Fed chairman, was chairman of Ford’s Council of Economic Advisers, and he was appalled by the program. In his book, The age of turbulenceGreenspan recalled attending a White House meeting about it:
“The speechwriters had ordered millions of Whip Inflation Now buttons, samples of which they handed out to us in the room. It was surreal. I was the only economist present and I said to myself: “This is incredible stupidity. What am I doing here?'”
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He told them, “You can’t ask small business owners to voluntarily waive price increases. These people operate on low margins and they can’t stop their suppliers from raising prices. Greenspan said he got them to water down some of the program’s provisions, but WIN went ahead with what he called a “low point in economic policy-making.”
According to the Ford Presidential Library, the initial enthusiasm led to “massive quantities of handmade and mass-produced materials, including buttons, signs, clothing, stickers, ephemera and much more. The “WIN” button has become the best selling button since 1971. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm faded in the new year as the program failed to generate the expected results and the program quickly died out.
Some Americans mocked WIN by wearing the buttons upside down, which made them read “NIM” – for “No Immediate Miracles”. The New York Times reported that the program “quickly became the butt of many jokes despite Ford appearing on TV with a red and white WIN button”.
In December 1974, George Harrison visited the White House at the invitation of Ford’s 22-year-old son, Jack Ford. A reporter remarked to Harrison, “You wear a lot of buttons, but none of them are ‘WIN’ buttons,” as Jack Ford laughed.
“None of them are buttons what?” Harrison replied
“Do you know what a WIN button is? President Ford’s Whip Inflation Now campaign?” asked the reporter. Harrison shook his head and said, “Well, they haven’t given me any yet.”
Young Ford chimed in, “We’ve got one inside for him.”
“I’ll get it on the way out,” Harrison said with a laugh. Once inside the White House, President Ford tried to give the ex-Beatle a WIN button, but couldn’t find one.
Inflation persists, “WIN” is removed
Nor has Ford been able to find a way to bring inflation down, which has averaged 9% during his 2.5 years as president. And in March 1975, the committee appointed to run WIN abandoned the program.
“We just had too much publicity at first, and we just weren’t ready to operate,” said Sylvia Porter, a business columnist who ran the committee.
Panel member Hobart Taylor, a Washington attorney, called the much-mocked WIN button a “trick.”
“That wasn’t our gimmick!” Porter said. “You all know what happened – we ended up with the task of building the plane in the air.”
According to the Ford Presidential Library, “the program suffered from continuing funding and personnel problems, and by early 1975 worries about economic recession replaced worries about inflation.”