What President Roosevelt really wants done about prices, is like so many other objectives and methods of the New Deal, clouded with a great deal of confusion. For a long period in the early days of the Administration, it was reiterated that the President's purpose was to raise prices. Indeed this was so constanty repeated, that one had the feeling that if only automobiles, for example, cost 20 percent more than they did, everything would be right with the world.
Then only last April, dispatches from Washington disclosed that Mr. Roosevelt felt that the time had come to lower prices. This was confusing, but the Roosevelt Recession which followed and which is still in our midst, is even more so. As the various business indices dropped lower and lower, government economists have been meeting more and more often and comparing their charts and theories. And last week, the President told the press the result of these conferences.
It now appears that we are back where we were in the early days of the New Deal, as far as business conditions go, for it seems that the Roosevelt Recession is a genuine depression now, and the New Deal has the same answer--prices must rise again. It is not inflation, the President is careful to point out, that he desires, but merely a rise in the general price level. No further devaluation of the dollar is contemplated, according to Mr. Roosevelt, but the Administration does want to maintain a "balance of prices."
But the most disturbing thing about this new Administration declaration of policy, is not the rapid, inconsistent reversals in ideas and theories. The country is, or should be, used to that by now. The implications, however, of Mr. Roosevelt's various statements about high or low prices should be, go a good deal deeper. They reveal that the President believes the federal government should have ultimate authority over all prices, so that eventually Washington will be able to set prices at the levels it thinks proper. And when all the factors that go into the making of prices are considered, it rapidly becomes clear that if a government is to have power to set and maintain prices, there will be very little that is not regulated by that government.