In 1969, the average factory worker earned 82 cents less a week in real terms than he did in 1965. … In NY, some letter carriers were eligible for welfare. Across the economy, long-term labor contracts that had failed to keep pace with prices were expiring… Where union leaders weren’t able to settle to their restive memberships’ satisfaction, a price was being exacted: the ‘wildcat’ strike…
Richard Nixon judged the inflation risk acceptable. Economics was one more aspect of domestic policy that he tended to ignore. But he did harbor one core economic conviction. In the traditional trade-off between recession and inflation, he would always chose inflation…
But creeping price hikes were shaking that confidence. Dour old financiers were once more warning a president to cool the economy… The Federal Reserve Chairman waxed gloomily in a June 1969 speech to an audience of bankers: with federal expenditures growing 60% in three years and revenues & productivity not keeping pace, the U.S. economy was “a house of cards.” The time had come to cool it down: “We’re going to have a good deal of pain and suffering before we can solve these things.”
1970: The Summer of Hunkering Down. I was a teenager in NYC then, and my dad worked in the area (for the Port Authority), but I don’t remember the ‘Wall Street Hard Hat Riots’ at all. What I do remember was the increasing polarization, a sort of angry despair, which in retrospect seems to have been very much the goal of the Nixon administration and the Permanent Ruling Party in general. The big local story that I recall — of course, my family had skin in that game — was the state of near-war over the construction of the WTC. Memories have been re-written in the hate-us-for-our-freedom afterglow of 9/11, but when it was actively destroying a vibrant small-business neighborhood the whole project was regarded by a lot of the natives (Daily News and Post readers) as a way for upstate’s Rockefellers (NYT / WSJ readers), working together with Big NJ Crime, to tear a chunk out of Manhattan’s vitals and destroy the city’s status as a working port. I remember it as the time when unions turned against each other, ‘hard hats’ (construction workers) versus ‘city workers’ (Port Authority workers like my dad, but also firemen, cops & other civil-service workers who saw their jobs being threatened when funds & attention were reallocated to the Shiny New Sinkhole). I do remember plenty of media talk about escalation in Vietnam, ‘student riots’, and general state-sponsored murder out there, elsewhere in the big world, but locally it was all about extended family gatherings breaking down into screaming matches and fistfights over much more parochial concerns. We would’ve agreed the whole world was going to hell, though.
This was the Nixon who once shared in a moment of introspection to an aide, “It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it because it is part of you and you need it as much as an arm or leg… You continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance.”