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The Case for Strategic Price Policies

For four decades, mainstream economists have slammed the door on the idea that the US government might intervene to manage the prices of certain goods. But this reactionary mindset has no sound basis, and today’s inflationary episode should be an occasion for reconsidering the question.

AUSTIN – With a single commentary in The Guardian (and an unintended assist from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman), economist Isabella Weber of the University of Massachusetts injected clear thinking into a debate that had been suppressed for 40 years. Specifically, she has advanced the idea that rising prices call for a price policy. Imagine that.

The last vestige of a systematic price policy in America, the White House Council on Wage and Price Stability, was abolished on January 29, 1981, a week after Ronald Reagan took office. That put an end to a run of policies that had begun in April 1941 with the creation of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply – seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

US price policies took various forms over the next four decades. During World War II, selective price controls quickly gave way to a “general maximum price regulation” (with exceptions), followed by a full freeze with the “hold the line order” of April 1943.

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