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The Rolling Adjustment Recession (1960-1961) The Energy Crisis #1 Recession (1980)
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The Oil Shock Recession (1973-1975)


The Oil Shock Recession (1973-1975) was a severe global economic downturn caused by a sharp increase in oil prices, which resulted in high inflation and unemployment rates. This recession had significant historical and financial implications, highlighting the world’s dependence on oil and the global economy’s vulnerability to sudden price shocks. The period leading up to the recession was characterized by rapid economic growth, low inflation, and strong global demand for oil. In contrast, the post-recession period was marked by an increased focus on energy conservation, economic reforms, and efforts to reduce the reliance on oil.

Preconditions: The “Golden Age of Capitalism”

The 1950s and 1960s are often referred to as the “Golden Age of Capitalism” due to the rapid economic growth experienced by many industrialized nations during this period. The growth was fueled by several factors, including technological advancements, increased consumer spending, and rebuilding economies after World War II. In addition, this period of prosperity led to the development of the welfare state, improved living standards, and increased international trade.

However, this growth also created imbalances and vulnerabilities in the global economy. The fixed exchange rate system established under the Bretton Woods agreement began to face pressure due to the mounting US trade deficit and the declining value of the US dollar. In addition, the growing demand for oil and the increasing reliance on imports from OPEC countries made the global economy more susceptible to disruptions in oil supply.

Causes and Triggers

OPEC Oil Embargo

The primary trigger for the Oil Shock Recession was the oil embargo imposed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in October 1973. This embargo was a response to Western support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War. As a result, oil prices quadrupled from around $3 per barrel in September 1973 to nearly $12 per barrel by January 1974, causing a significant shock to the global economy.

Economic Imbalances

Before the recession, the global economy experienced rapid growth, often called the “Golden Age of Capitalism.” However, this growth led to economic imbalances, such as high levels of debt and over-investment in certain sectors like real estate and manufacturing. Additionally, the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, which had been established after World War II, began to unravel in the early 1970s due to mounting pressures on the US dollar. These imbalances made the economy more vulnerable to shocks, like the sudden increase in oil prices.

Currency Instability

The collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 led to increased currency volatility, further exacerbating global economic imbalances. Countries with flexible exchange rates, like the US and the UK, saw their currencies depreciate relative to the currencies of countries with fixed exchange rates, like Germany and Japan. This currency instability contributed to the global economic turmoil during the Oil Shock Recession.

The Role of Speculation

The rapid increase in oil prices during the recession was not solely due to the OPEC oil embargo. Instead, speculation in the oil markets played a significant role in driving up prices. As oil prices began to rise, market participants anticipated further increases and hoarded oil, leading to a self-reinforcing cycle of higher prices and increased demand for oil.

Duration and Severity

The Oil Shock Recession lasted from 1973 to 1975, with several phases:

  1. Initial shock (1973): Oil prices skyrocketed, causing inflation and a drop in consumer spending.
  2. Recession (1974-1975): High inflation and unemployment rates led to declining economic growth. In the US, real GDP fell by 2.1% in 1974 and 0.2% in 1975.
  3. Recovery (1975): The economy started to recover as oil prices stabilized and government measures took effect.

Key economic indicators during the recession included:

  • Inflation: In the US, the annual inflation rate reached 12.3% in 1974, up from 3.4% in 1972.
  • Unemployment: The US unemployment rate peaked at 9% in May 1975.

Government Response and Actions

Governments around the world took various actions to combat the recession, including:

Monetary Policy

Central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, increased interest rates to control inflation. For example, the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate from 5.75% in 1972 to a peak of 12% in July 1974. Other central banks followed suit, raising interest rates in an attempt to stabilize their currencies and combat inflation.

Fiscal Policy

Governments implemented tax cuts and increased spending on public projects to stimulate economic growth. For example, in the US, the Revenue Adjustment Act of 1975 provided a one-time tax rebate to taxpayers and temporary tax credits for businesses. Additionally, the government increased spending on infrastructure projects, such as the construction of highways and public buildings.

Energy Policies

Measures to promote energy conservation and diversify energy sources were introduced. For example, in the US, the National Energy Act of 1978 aimed to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil by promoting energy efficiency and developing alternative energy sources like solar and wind power. The establishment of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 1974 was another response to the crisis aimed at coordinating international energy policy and improving energy security.

International Coordination

In response to the recession, the Group of Six (G6) was formed in 1975, later expanding to become the Group of Seven (G7) in 1976. This group of leading industrialized nations aimed to address global economic issues, foster international cooperation, and coordinate policy responses to financial crises like the Oil Shock Recession.

Societal and Economic Impact

The recession had wide-ranging effects on different sectors of society:

  • Workers: Many people faced job losses and wage stagnation due to the economic downturn. The manufacturing sector, in particular, experienced significant job losses as companies struggled to cope with higher production costs and reduced demand for their products.
  • Businesses: Companies faced higher production costs due to increased oil prices, leading to reduced profits, bankruptcies, and a slowdown in new business formation. Small businesses, in particular, suffered due to limited access to credit and a challenging economic environment.
  • Governments: Public debt increased as governments spent more to mitigate the recession’s effects. In the US, the federal budget deficit rose from $23 billion in 1972 to $53 billion in 1975.
  • Consumers: The high inflation rates eroded consumers’ purchasing power, leading to a decline in consumer spending and a reduction in the standard of living for many households.

Long-term consequences included a greater focus on energy independence and economic reforms to address structural imbalances. The post-recession period also shifted towards more market-oriented economic policies as governments recognized the need for greater flexibility and efficiency in their economies.

Financial Market Impact

The recession had a significant impact on financial markets:

  • Stock market: Stock prices fell sharply, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing over 45% of its value between 1973 and 1974. The bear market that ensued was the worst since the Great Depression.
  • Investors: Many investors experienced losses and became more cautious, shifting their focus toward risk management and diversification. The recession prompted investors to reevaluate their portfolios and investment strategies, leading to an increased interest in assets like bonds, real estate, and commodities.

Recovery and Reform

The recovery from the Oil Shock Recession was slow and uneven, but it eventually led to economic reforms:

  • Economic recovery: Growth resumed in 1975 as oil prices stabilized and government measures took effect. However, the recovery was slow, and it took several years for the global economy to regain its pre-recession momentum.
  • Reforms: Policymakers introduced new regulations and policies to prevent future crises, such as stricter controls on financial institutions and investments in alternative energy sources. In the US, the deregulation of the airline, trucking, and telecommunications industries deregulation aimed to foster competition and innovation.
  • Monetary policy changes: The recession led to a shift in monetary policy, with central banks adopting more flexible approaches to interest rates and money supply management. This shift helped to stabilize financial markets and promote economic growth in the post-recession period.

The Bottom Line

The Oil Shock Recession (1973-1975) offers several important take-away points:

  1. Global interconnectedness: The recession demonstrated the interconnectedness of the global economy and the importance of international cooperation in managing economic crises and fostering sustainable growth.
  2. Energy policy: The crisis underscored the need for diversified energy sources and increased focus on energy conservation to reduce the global economy’s vulnerability to sudden price shocks.
  3. Economic reforms: The post-recession period shifted towards more market-oriented economic policies as governments recognized the need for greater flexibility and efficiency in their economies.
  4. Risk management: Investors learned the importance of risk management and diversification in their portfolios to minimize losses during economic downturns.
  5. Monetary policy changes: The recession highlighted the importance of flexible and responsive monetary policy in managing inflation and stabilizing financial markets.

These lessons continue to shape economic and policy decisions today as governments, businesses, and investors strive to build more resilient economies and reduce their dependence on volatile resources like oil. By understanding the causes, consequences, and lessons learned from the Oil Shock Recession, future generations can be better prepared to navigate economic challenges and make informed decisions that promote long-term stability and prosperity.


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The Rolling Adjustment Recession (1960-1961) The Energy Crisis #1 Recession (1980)