From the 1974-75 Recession to the ‘Volcker Shock’

As I explained last week, the devaluation of the U.S. dollar in terms of gold had temporarily halted by the end of 1974. After peaking at $195.25 an ounce on December 30, 1974, the dollar price of gold had fallen to $104.00 on August 31, 1976.

As a result, during 1975 the rate of U.S. inflation as measured by the government producer price index was “only” about 4.4 percent. Still, the official producer price index rose more in the recession-depression year of 1975 than it had in the inflationary boom year of 1965. This despite a slump that was considerably worse than that of 1957-58.

The U.S. workers—and workers in other capitalist countries—were hit in two ways. One, workers’ living standards were lowered by the rising cost of living in terms of the devalued currency their wages were paid in. In a more traditional type recession-depression, the cost of living would have been expected to fall.

Second, just like was the case in a traditional crisis-depression, wages were under downward pressure from the high rate of unemployment. In the case of U.S. workers, this was on top of the disastrous—for U.S. workers—wage and price controls that had been imposed by the Nixon administration.

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