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What the Oil Shocks of the ’70s Can Tell Us About Today

The author of Panic at the Pump compares the crisis faced by Presidents Nixon and Carter to now. 

Meg Jacobs

Meg Jacobs

Source: Meg Jacobs

Meg Jacobs’s Panic at the Pump was well received when it was first published in 2017, but it’s even more of a must-read today. There are no lines at gasoline stations these days like there were in the 1970s, and no US president would dare go on national television to counsel viewers to turn down their thermostat in winter and drive at lower speeds. But there’s plenty that resonates: Inflation is running at four-decade highs, in part because of soaring fuel costs; surveys show that consumers believe oil companies are raking in profits at their expense; and politicians disagree on what role—if any—government should play in tamping down prices. Here, Jacobs, a historian who’s on the faculty at Princeton University, discusses energy crises past and present with Bloomberg Businessweek economics editor Cristina Lindblad.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but often it rhymes, said Mark Twain—supposedly. What rhymes for you about the 1970s and today?
I find myself thinking about the 1970s all the time, whether it’s gas prices that seem to be rising every minute at the pump, or the threat of trucker strikes, or the sort of general malaise that Americans are experiencing. And, of course, we hear all the time that we have not had rates of inflation this high since the 1970s.