The economy is starting to pay the price of last year's excessive burst of federal spending and money growth as consumer and wholesale prices begin to accelerate, a group of leading monetary economists warned yesterday.
To avoid a recession in 1979 or 1980, policymakers must reduce the rate of growth of money gradually and hold down federal spending, the group said.
Allan H. Meltzer, cochairman of the group and professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, warned that, unless a policy of "gradualism" is adopted immediately, accelerating inflation ultimately will force the administration to take harsh anti-inflation actions in later years.
The group calls itself the Shadow Open Market Committee because it meets every six months to second-guess the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve system which sets monetary policy for the nation.
The shadow group had harsh words for the Federal Reserve system for permitting "excessive monetary growth" in 1977. While the Fed set a growth goal of between 4 percent and 6.5 percent, money growth was well in excess of 7 percent.
The money supply, narrowly defined, is the total of checking accounts and currency in circulation. The growth of the money supply is directed by the Federal Reserve.
Economist differ on how important they think the growth of the money supply is in determining employment, growth and inflation, but nearby all agree that money supply growth has a big impact on the health of the economy.
In its policy statement, the Shadow Open Market Committee said, 'We cannot expect inflation to slow following a period of sustained increase in money growth form 4.4 percent in 1975 to 5.6 percent in 1976 and 7.4 percent in 1977."
The committee noted that the last time money growth exceeded 7 percent was in 1972 and 1973, "just before the major inflation began." Double-digit inflation in 1973 and 1974 is considered to be responsible in large part for triggering the massive recession of 1974 and 1975 that sent unemployment spiralling to 9 percent.
While the economist said continuation of 7 percent money growth would be "cause for alarm...no less alarming would be an abrupt reductionof this growth rate" wnich would plunge the economy into another recession.
G. William Miller, newly appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, told Congress last week that he favors gradually reducing the growth of the money supply to combat inflation and promote continued strong economic performance.
The shadow group, composed of 10 business and academic economists urged the Fed to slow the growth of the money supply to 6 percent in 1978 and to reduce the expansion gradually to 5 percent next year and by another percentage point each succeeding year until the monery supply is growing by about 2 percent a year.
The committee also recommended that Congress hold down government spending "below the growth of private spending during the next three fiscal years" and that taxes be reduced on individuals and business to offset the impact on inflation on taxpayers. These actions would encourage investment, output and continued job creation, they said.
"The problems the nation faces are not intractable. They seem intractable only because the government continues to seek short-term solutions to long-term problems and acts on the false presumption that inflation will not increase as long as resources are counted as unemployed" the group said.
The dollar will continues to decline, the stock market will continue to fall and interest rates will continue to rise until the nation adopts an economic policy "to reduce inflation, balance the budget, and encourage investment growth and high employment," the group said.
The economist said that a "policy that looks ahead years, not weeks or quarters, is what is required...Promises to defend the dollar, increase investment, balance the budget and lower inflation cannot be met if the primary aim of policy is to stimulate short-term spending."Current policy will produce higher inflation, but not the high level of investment the administration seeks to restore growth of income to the long-term potential of the economy."
The group also warned that the continued large federal deficit will add to problems in domestic financial markets. Michigan State University Professor Robert Rashe said that foreign governments purchased nearly one-half of the U. S. federal debt last year, a figure that is unlikely to be repeated.
Carnegie-Mellon's Meltzer estimated that domestic financial markets will "have to absorb three times as much" government debt this year as they did last, which will boost interest rates and "crowd out" other worthy borrowers.