When inflation began to bubble up in the mid-1960s, President Lyndon Johnson threw his formidable weight into stopping it. When shoe prices went up, he slapped restrictions on exports of hides. He tried to talk RCA out of raising prices on TVs, halted federal purchases of wooden furniture to hold down lumber inflation and had the surgeon general warn about cholesterol when egg prices went up.
“Johnson was everywhere, a Dutch uncle with a thousand thumbs plugging holes in economic dikes to hold off the floodwaters of inflation,” Joseph Califano Jr., the aide charged with carrying out these orders, recalled years later.
Inflation went up anyway, because Johnson wouldn’t address the underlying cause: a growing budget…