The Director of Economic Research for the International Business Machines Crop. yesterday warned Congress that the Carter administration's economic program is inadequate "to avoid a slowdown in 1978 and a risk of recession in 1979."
Alvin J. Karchere, the IBM economist, also told the Joint Economic Committee that failure to reduce the imported oil bill, which he said will approach $50 billion in 1979, threatens the stability of the U.S. dollar.
Karchere testified at hearings convened to review the outlook for the balance of 1977 and 1978. The committee will hear testimony from Economic Council chairman Charles L. Schultze this morning.
Committee chairman Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) noted that recent statistics for the first quarter looked "encouraging," but said achievement of the administration's long-term objectives "will depend heavily on the vigor in the private sector."
Bolling said the question to be addressed is whether this expectation is realistic, and what government policy should be if the private economy does not expand as expected.
Karchere's pessimistic view of the economy after the next four quarters was matched in general in testimony by Prof. Ronald L. Teigen of the University of Michigan, who said that the increase in the gross national product by 6.4 per cent in the first quarter does not represent "a shift to a vigorous recovery track."
A third witness, Jack Carlson, chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, took on the administration from a somewhat different stance. Carlson criticized budget director Bert Lance's recent assaults on banks for raising the prime interest rate.
Carlson also said the slow growth of investment in plant and equipment is caused in part because all administration proposals so far have been "anti-investment."
A Commerce Department report on Tuesday indicated that business investment in new plant and equipment this year, on a deflated basis, would be only 7.7 per cent, compared with the administration's own estimate of 9 to 10 per cent required to assure full employment.
Karchere told the committee that there is "sufficient momentum" in the private economy to assure a real growth rate of more than 5 per cent until April 1978. But for the balance of next, he predicted a sharp drop to an annual rate of about 2.5 per cent.
Economists generally agree to the rule of thumb that it takes 4 per cent real growth to absorb new entrants in the labor force and prevent an increase in unemployment.
The main problem outlined by Karchere is the prospect of a slowdown in consumer spending, which in the past year grew at 5.5 per cent (in real terms), and which he said would slow down to 4 per cent in the next year and then to 2.5 per cent in the final nine months of 1978.
The IBM economist, speaking for himself and not for the corporation, called for a more expansionary policy, which he said would have little adverse effect on wage rates because of high unemployment and large amounts of unused capacity in industry.
Teigen said new stimulus should take the shape of programs to make "more funds available to businesses and which reduce the user cost of capital." One technique, he said, could be a larger investment tax credit. And Federal Reserve policy, he argued, should be more expansionary.
Carlson, on the other hand, defending current Fed policy - said interest rates - criticized by Lance - would not be advancing if the Federal deficit were declining instead of advancing from fiscal 1977 to fiscal 1978.
In addition to his charge that most Carter administration program were "anti-investment", Carlson said the business community has the impression that tax reform proposals to be developed later this year "will not encourage investment. The increases in capital gains taxes may offset the decreases in the double taxation of corporate income," Carlson said.