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The growth of inflation, despite tight credit and high taxes, indicates the need for a general examination of America's economic health. President Eisenhower has expressed concern about soaring prices, which have brought complaints from pension-holders and others on fixed incomes. Many economists think that inflation has reached the acute stage, beyond which lie the hardships of a depression or the inequities accompanying devalued currency. Although there are some optimistic voices, anticipation of a general pocketbook squeeze calls for inquiry.
Unfortunately the House Banking and Currency Committee voted to make into a Congressional investigation what should be a thorough study of the United States' financial system. But Congress needs an understanding of the operations and effects of our economic set-up which a Congressional committee cannot acquire. Congressmen lack time and background to cover the complex problem.
Furthermore a Congressional committee would probably be headed by Representative Patman of Texas, whose animosity toward the Federal Reserve Board might well turn the investigation into an attack on that agency. The committee would be all too likely to operate as a partisan inquisition, its Democrats seizing the chance to discredit the Administration. While Congress should question "the credit squeeze," which seems to have hurt small business and housing while failing to halt inflation, knowledge of the whole problem must precede a workable alternative.
The present moil of opinions shows both the complexity of the inflationary situation and the need for an impartial committee. The National Association of Manufacturers blames rising prices on labor. George Meany allows as how things don't look too bad. The American Bankers Association acts quite upset. John Galbraith is in despair.
Congress should be willing to sponsor a general inquiry by an independent commission. Such a commission should represent the major interests involved, and should include leading economists. Its investigation would secure the cooperation of governmental and private organizations, instead of putting all concerned on the defensive. It would seek to understand all aspects of our economic predicament in order to suggest to the federal government the best use of present economic power and to determine whether new measures, such as wage and price controls, are necessary.
Lyndon Johnson favors a group like the Hoover Commission, one third appointed by the President, the rest by Congress. House Democrats, however, fear the probable big-business domination of such a group. Congress should therefore appoint the total membership of a more able and representative investigatory group than it can furnish from its own members.
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