Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is attempting the mother-of-all balancing acts to tame inflation which is currently at an 8.6% annualized rate. On June 15 he and the other members of the Federal Open Market Committee raised the benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a point (referred to as a 75 “basis point” hike by the finance cognoscenti) to “unstimulate” the economy. The Fed will continue to raise rates until it has an impact on spending and everyone is hoping for a “soft landing” for the economy instead of a crash-and-burn landing.
The best and the brightest in both the private and public sectors have been consulting their books, their oracles, even their Magic 8-Balls (“Cannot Predict Now”) to crack this very tough nut of what we’ve come to call “runaway inflation.” The variables are many: the $3 trillion of government covid relief spending; the supply chain snafus; the war in Ukraine; the oil companies; the very low interest rates. Heck, let’s throw climate change in there too.
But one tried-and-true remedy seems to be missing from the dialogue: resurrecting an upgraded and updated WIN button campaign.
The 1974 WIN Button Campaign
Remember the WIN button? It stood for “Whip Inflation Now” and the campaign was announced on national television by then President Gerald Ford on October 8, 1974, when the U.S was struggling with an 11.04% inflation rate. I remember being in front of the TV watching that night and thinking “huh?”
Ford explained the scaffolding of the campaign this way: “To help increase food and lower pieces, grow more and waste less. To help save scarce fuel in the energy crisis, drive less, heat less.” The button was to be the symbol of what he called a “massive mobilization.”
And there was the WIN pledge he and his wife Betty signed publicly that night. “I pledge to my fellow citizens that I will buy, when possible, only those products and services priced at or below present levels.”
The simplicity of the program was beautiful. We each have the ability and the responsibility to make the day-to-day decisions that when combined with the equivalent actions of millions of others can have an aggregate effect on that evil monster Inflation. And the buttons were a big hit. Within a month over 15 million of those little talismans had been ordered.
The campaign had its skeptics, of course. Alan Greenspan, the Mr. Smarty Pants head of Ford’s Council of Economic Advisors years later said he was “horrified” at the plan and called it an exercise in “unbelievable stupidity.” Some people wore the button upside down so it said NIM — “No Instant Miracles.”
By December, just two months later, the national attention deficit disorder of the American people kicked in and everyone grew bored with the WIN button and moved on to the next shiny object — the mood ring. It was literally a shiny new object and the mood ring did not require ANY personal sacrifice, a very attractive feature indeed.
But here’s a contrary point of view. Perhaps, maybe, just maybe the WIN button worked after all. Inflation fell to an annualized rate of 9.13 in 1975 and continued down to 5.76 in 1976, a significant improvement from the 11%+ figure when the WIN button was launched. And yes, I have a social science graduate degree and know all about correlation vs. causality, fiscal vs. monetary policy, exogenous variables, and other blah, blah, blah stuff about economics and cause and effect.
All I’m saying is 11%+ inflation before WIN button and 5.76 inflation after WIN button. This proof should be a eureka moment for us all.
And the popular rock group Devo paid homage to the WIN button in their 1980 song “Whip It.” Their lyrics clearly trumpet Ford’s successful WIN strategy.
When a problem comes along, you must whip it; Before the cream sits out too long, you must whip it; When something’s going wrong, you must whip it.
To that end, I am making a modest proposal — it’s time for a new button campaign to fight demon inflation. But not WIN. Been there, done that and I think WIN should be able to enjoy his accolades and retirement. And it also sounds so, well, 70s-ish. We need a call to action with a little more attitude. More kick, more pizazz.
Speaking of “kick,” perhaps we should have a KICK (Kick Inflation’s Can Knowingly) button. “Pizazz?” Let’s see — how about a PIZAZZ button (Punch Inflation Zealously And Zero Zigzags)? Nah — seeing all of those Z’s might make someone sleepy. We want energy and passion and commitment even if it comes off as advocating for a rather violent act against inflation. Here are some other button candidates:
- KIA (Kick Inflation’s Ass). On second thought, the automaker might sue for copyright. And it might offend some people.
- Stop BS (Stop Buying Stuff). Well, maybe a bit extreme — some of us need food to exist and food qualifies as “stuff.”
- RIP (Reduce Inflation Permanently)
- SIN (Stop Inflation Now). However, I think church groups would complain.
- RUIN (Reduce Unbridled Inflation Now)
- SHIT (Stop Horrible Inflation Today). No. A non-starter. Nope, nope.
- ANNIHILATE Actually, I didn’t take the time to figure out what that might be an acronym for even though there is the letter “i” for inflation in it and it is a fierce action verb. Plus, it would make for a button that is way too big to wear proudly.
I’m pretty sure Fed Chairman Powell will appreciate this carefully thought-out analysis and evidence-based recommendation. When he goes on national TV to announce the new button campaign (whichever acronym he chooses), I won’t even try to take any credit. No charge. It’s part of my duty as an American citizen to beat inflation. To whip inflation. Now.
About the author: Mike Hoban is a business topics writer and leadership coach/ advisor. He is actively working at becoming a world-class grandpa to his five young granddaughters. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant, and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and wrote many thought leadership pieces for DDI when he was there. He also wrote a business column for 12 years. His recent commentaries — including many about leading during the COVID pandemic — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at email@example.com.