Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Trip Back Through Time

My mother and father-in-law visited this past weekend. When they come they often bring along gifts with them. These include lots of foods, including candy for the kids (and me, as I love candy), bread from the Amana Colonies (which they pass through on the way to our house), and if we are lucky some Swedish specialties from their hometown of Rockford, Illinois.

For the uninitiated, Rockford is the home of the Stockholm Inn, which has the best Swedish pancakes and ligonberries this side of Malmo. (OK, I had to look up Malmo. I didn’t know any other Swedish towns besides Stockholm, and that sounded redundant.) They also have a great cold fruit soup, as well as such delicacies as herring and other stuff that can make my kids go EW. However, I like this stuff, and if I am a good son-in-law, I get some of these kinds of foods when they visit. Or I have to drive to Rockford and get them myself.

Like many of us, they collect things. Often they will also bring along treasures from their basement or attic, including some very cool toys . (They had two girls, one of whom I married, so the toys run toward Barbie cars, rather than GI Joes or stuff like that my boys might like.) This time they thought of me, as they brought along a LIFE magazine from April 14, 1972. This one had special meaning because of the cover story, which involved beef.

When people ask where’s the beef, I can usually point outside my window to find some walking around our farm. Or if I am in the garage, I will just open the freezer door. (Sorry, PETA readers.)

So, where’s the meat of this story? The cover story showed a good looking steak with the caption: “Sky-High Meat Prices”. Subtitles included: “Outrage at the checkout counter”; “who gets all that money for beef”, and “how a family copes with food bills.” Of course, I had to look at this.

I flipped through the magazine to find this story, which was itself an interesting journey. I passed a two-page spread with Marlboro cowboys inviting us to their country. They had a lot of horses in the picture, and I was sure hoping that the steak on the cover didn’t come from those critters. I also flipped past some cool stories about fashion for “liberated ladies” (their words). This is so retro and cool, I just dig it. Oops, I’m lapsing back into the 1970’s man. (I actually was accused of being a sensitive man of the 90’s once, but I think the woman who called me that meant the 1890’s. But I digress).

Finally, I got to the story, which followed the family of Fred Green, a consumer who was “frustrated” over the high price of meat. (T-Bone steaks were up to $1.49/lb at that time.) President Nixon’s wage and price controls (yes, Republican friends, we did that back then) designed to curb inflation had not covered farm products at that time (presumably because they didn’t want us to go hungry) and prices had shot up 14 percent over the year before. (Later, they included farm products and farmers cut back on their deliveries.)

The story angle was focusing on what the government would do about this problem. “In an election year, the Greens’ outrage at the checkout counter is not only a personal economic burden, but a large political fact.” The wage and price controls were infamously ineffective, but they did mollify a lot of consumers who were also voters. I don’t know how much this affected their movement toward Richard Nixon’s landslide victory that year, but the Nixon Whitehouse undoubtedly considered them as they planned to implement the price controls. Whether the price controls helped move the “silent majority” that his election strategy relied upon towards his way is a matter best left for my political science pals. But there is no doubt that he tried, as he did not want to repeat the close victory in 1968 and the close loss in 1960.

Then, as now, we need to be careful about what we expect the government to do for us. There is more to discuss here, particularly about the beef industry then and now, and the interesting history of those wage and price controls. I’ll leave that for a later post.


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