Economic problems dogged the presidencies of Nixon’s successors. Gerald Ford, who had been appointed to replace Vice President Agnew, succeeded to the White House when Nixon resigned. Ford named Nelson Rockefeller of New York as his own vice president. Thus, for the only time in American history, both offices were occupied by persons for whom no one had actually voted. Among his first acts as president, Ford pardoned Nixon, shielding him from prosecution for obstruction of justice. Ford claimed that he wanted the country to put the Watergate scandal behind it. But the pardon proved to be widely unpopular.
In domestic policy, Ford’s presidency lacked significant accomplishment. Ford and his chief economic adviser, Alan Greenspan, believed that Americans spent too much on consumption and saved too little, leaving business with insufficient money for investment. They called for cutting taxes on business and lessening government regulation of the economy. But the Democratic majority in Congress was in no mood to accept these traditional Republican policies. To combat inflation, Ford urged Americans to shop wisely, reduce expenditures, and wear WIN buttons (for “Whip Inflation Now”). Although inflation fell, joblessness continued to rise. During the steep recession of 1974-1975 unemployment exceeded 9 percent, the highest level since the Depression.
Figure 26.2 REAL AVERAGE WEEKLY WAGES, 1955-1990
Because of economic dislocations and deindustrialization, Americans’ real wages (wages adjusted to take account of inflation) peaked in the early 1970s and then began a sharp, prolonged decline.
President Gerald Ford tried to enlist Americans in his “Whip Inflation Now” program. It did not succeed.
In the international arena, 1975 witnessed the major achievement of Ford’s presidency. In a continuation of Nixon’s policy of detente, the United States and Soviet Union signed an agreement at Helsinki, Finland, that recognized the permanence of Europe’s post-World War II boundaries (including the division of Germany). In addition, both superpowers agreed to respect the basic liberties of their citizens. Secretary of State Kissinger and his Soviet counterpart, Andrey Gromyko, assumed that this latter pledge would have little practical effect. But over time, the Helsinki Accords inspired movements for greater freedom within the communist countries of eastern Europe.