Forsaking the Market

Price Controls and Ideological Change in the United States


  • Gordon P. Henderson



A central component of the American political ethos has been that there ought to be a complementary relationship between the liberal polity and free-market capitalism. When such a relationship exists the distinction between the two spheres is presumably dissolved by the liberty guaranteed by each to the other. This paper consists of an analysis of editorials and columns in the American prestige press on the question of the desirability of price and wage control during the 1940s and 1970s and assumes that such an issue highlights the relationship of politics and economics. The analysis reveals that the editorial position of the New York Times had changed from reluctant to strong support for controls based on a perceived crisis of fairness in the American political economy during the early 1970s. The concern with fairness during the 1970s was mirrored in reverse in Wall Street Joumal editorials and columns opposing controls and suggests that a scramble for economic shares had taken precedence over the more traditional concern to preserve political and economic liberty.