The nineteen seventies, considered as an informal era rather than as a formal decade, began during 1973 and lasted until Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981. During 1973 America's involvement in the Vietnam War ended, and the oil crisis that would usher in an economic recession started. In that same year, the vice president of the United States resigned from office, and the president faced a political crisis that would lead to his resignation in August 1974. Taken together, these events ended the self-confident period that had prevailed after the Second World War and marked the start of something new. In this new era, a wide range of Americans—Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, blacks and whites, men and women—questioned the commonly held assumptions of the postwar era.
The fact that the economy deteriorated during the seventies caused people to lose faith in the politicians and economists who were in charge of managing it. Between 1970 and 1973, the unemployment rate never rose above 6 percent, and the inflation rate peaked at 6.2 percent. Between 1974 and 1981, the unemployment rate never went below 5 percent, and the inflation rate reached 7 percent or higher in 1974, 1975, and every year between 1978 and 1981.1 What economists called stagflation—the simultaneous appearance of high prices and high unemployment—had become a fact of American life. Professional economists, who had been summoned to Washington after the Second World War and put in charge of advising the president on the management of the economy, emerged as heroes in the sixties. Their professional tools gave them the ability to fine-tune