early ‘70s, the boom turned into a bust. The period has been called “The Great Inflation,” highlighting the unprecedented crisis of inflation (a persistent rise in prices as a result of a decline in the buying power of the dollar). Combined with rising unemployment, the term “stagflation” was coined to describe the stagnant economy. In 1973, the Organization of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) enforced an oil embargo to discourage all countries from allying with Israel, including the U.S. Besides causing a nationwide gasoline shortage, the rising cost of petroleum impacted prices on manufacturing and transportation of many products, which hurt consumers.

For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans faced the possibility of a declining standard of living for their children. However, where the Depression had a unifying impact on the country (“we’re all in this together”), the ‘70s saw an “everyone looks out for themselves” response from Americans. As wealthy people moved into the suburbs, big cities and their minority populations took the hardest hit, facing declines in household income, blue-collar jobs, and living conditions.

Gasoline prices tripled in the ‘70s, and Americans experienced long waits (and sometimes no gas) at the pumps.

A McDonald’s store in California, the late ‘70s. Photo by John Margolies

THE "ME" DECADE In 1976, journalist Tom Wolfe labeled the 1970s as “The Me Decade.” Wolfe argued that Americans’ values had shifted from the collective causes of the ‘60s, such as civil rights and political justice, towards a preoccupation with individual well-being. In “The Me Decade,” more Americans began seeing therapists, reading self-help books, working out, participating in growth programs like “EST”— a popular self-transformation program created by Werner Erhardt — and exploring new-age spirituality and religious groups, like Scientology. Wolfe pointed to the 30 years of

Scotland, PA takes place in an “alternative universe” of 1975, where Duncan’s burger stand exists without competition from familiar chains. In reality, the fast-food industry expanded so widely throughout the '70s that one industry analyst called it “the decade of the fast-food business.” By 1977, for the first time ever, more than half of Americans were working, and 20% of American food dollars were spent in restaurants. The fast- food industry began advertising at children: in 1972, almost every child in America could identify Ronald McDonald—only Santa Claus was more recognizable. Although the first drive-throughs appeared in the late ‘40s and ‘50s (Jack in the Box was actually the first drive-through chain), McDonald’s did not actually open its first drive-through until 1975.

economic prosperity as the major force eroding Americans’ class consciousness in favor of individualism, while other thinkers viewed the focus on self-improvement as a reaction to the political and economic stresses of the times. The freedoms (and excesses) of the ‘70s, among other factors, gave rise to The New Right, a new conservative moment that ultimately led to the election of President Ronald Reagan and a nationwide swing to the right at the dawn of the 1980s.•



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