Richard Nixon

announced a 90-day freeze on all prices and wages in the U.S. on Aug. 15, 1971. Suddenly and with no warning, every shop and factory was forbidden to raise prices for every product sold anywhere in the country. It was a watershed moment—a radical program that imposed direct government control over the economy aimed at breaking the cycle of inflationary price and wage hikes.

A half-century later, the policy seems almost otherworldly. Does anyone think factory owners and shopkeepers would accept a peremptory presidential directive to freeze prices today? Resistance to government action has become deeply ingrained. In the face of the pandemic, Americans routinely flout governmental decrees to wear face masks and maintain social distance. Opposition to a freeze directive would almost certainly be swift and overwhelming.

Yet 50 years ago, retailers and…

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