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Yesteryear’s Memories: 1971 – The Shoppers Weekly

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If you’re old enough to remember 1971 — unless you had a personal milestone like a wedding or a cross-country move — you probably don’t remember much. It wasn’t one of those ‘banner years’ like the beginning of WWII or the Civil War. As for me, I was just starting high school and wasn’t much interested in current events. The Vietnam war was still dragging on and the normal political drama was on the news, but it wasn’t much different — or so it seemed to me at the time. Looking back at things that happened, though, it seems that a few stand out.

It seems unbelievable but women in Switzerland were not allowed to vote in federal elections until February of 1971. Amtrak was started. Malibu Barbie was a dollar ninety four. Federal Express went into business and was criticized for competing against the US Postal Service. Cigarette advertising was banned on TV. National Public Radio started broadcasts across the U.S. And Tony Orlando was singing “Knock Three Times on the Ceiling” on all the popular music stations. Groovy.

Charles Manson and three of his ‘groupies’ were sentenced to the death penalty, but then the penalty was suspended — so they stayed in prison instead. There was a riot in Attica prison in New York — twenty nine inmates and ten hostages were killed. Kevlar for bullet proof vests and soft contact lenses came onto the market. Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom stopped school kids over seven years old from getting free milk at school. The first microprocessor and the first pocket calculator were released.

Maria Carey, Justin Trudeau, and Elon Musk were born. So were Winona Ryder and Snoop Dog. The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.

Gas was thirty nine cents a gallon, the average household income was ten thousand dollars and the inflation rate was reported as 4.9%. Of course the government always changes the way it calculates inflation to make themselves look good, so we have to go by what we experience. That year President Nixon froze wages and prices for 90 days “to combat inflation.” He also took the United States off the gold standard — meaning that our money was no longer backed by, well, anything. Dollars could no longer be converted into gold. Officially, we were using ‘fiat currency.’ That’s like getting an IOU from some homeless guy who has no job and owns nothing.

Last year the inflation rate was reported as 9.1% — but in the meantime they changed the definition so it doesn’t sound so bad. It’s much worse. In my estimation, it’s more like three thousand percent since 1971.

I guess what I’m getting at is this. In 1971, average people could save up a bit and go on a trip. Maybe a week in Florida or a couple weekends in the next state. Maybe visit Grandma back in Pennsylvania. Today, people owe more on credit cards than any time in history — over a trillion dollars. Most people complain about prices going up — but it really is that our money is going down. Way down. That five bucks in the tank in 1971 would get you to work and back all week. Now, a fiver will barely get you home. All in all, things were uncertain in 1971, as always. But today, we don’t even have enough money to get through the month without whipping out the plastic. I just checked on Barbie — remember that doll that was less than two bucks? The holiday edition for this Christmas is forty five. Maybe some gold sitting in Fort Knox would be a good thing.



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