"It is later than you think," is an adage that might well be brought to the attention of the members of the House Banking and Currency Committee. As they wrangle endlessly over the Administration's price-control bill, the dark cloud of inflation hovers continually closer.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices on 28 basic commodities have climbed steadily since August, 1939, the month chosen by the Bureau as the index month for prices. During two weeks last August, when the Committee was energetically, but unproductively, listening to testimony on the bill, the average price of all these commodities bounded upward by more than 50 per cent. And by-mid-September the price index had risen to 157. In other words, we're paying nearly two-thirds more for what we buy today than we did for the same products when the present defense emergency began.
The effectiveness of price-control seems conclusively proven by this time. In his testimony before the Committee, Leon Henderson, federal price-administrator, pointed out that in the 12 of the 28 basic commodities which have already been placed under price-control, the index had shown a decrease of 2.4 points during a given period. At the same time, prices in the uncontrolled division had risen from 154 points to 168, with foodstuffs rising some 10 points higher.
To meet the inflation threat arising from this sky-rocketing of prices, the Administration-sponsored bill before the House committee calls for the delegation of discretionary powers to an administrator to place a ceiling over prices. In the past, Henderson has been severely handicapped by the absence of legal authority for price-fixing. The new bill would empower him to set up an arbitrary ceiling, based on past averages, above which prices of commodities cannot legally rise. Violation of such rulings would subject the offender to prosecution by the Attorney-General's Office, unless the established price can be proved unsatisfactory under present circumstances.
Why the committee has held up the bill for so long is a mystery to everyone, including the highly-paid Washington correspondents whose favorite pastime has always been to dig up some information about "mysterious" goings-on in the Capitol. No sound reason seems to exist for any further delay; it would mean only a more pressing threat of inflation and a graver danger to the high standard of living which has for so long been this country's pride.