When President Carter picked Alfred Kahn to be his new inflation fighter, he gave him a mandate to roam all over the economic landscape. And yesterday, Kahn said he planned to do just that.
Kahn is meeting daily, at 5:30 p.m., with a small group of top White House officials, to discern trouble spots in the inflation fight and figure out ways to enlist support for the President's new voluntary anti-inflation program.
Kahn said the group has ordered thorough studies of possible White House actions to curb inflation in four areas: food, energy, medical care and housing.
Food prices and energy prices, which have been the primary villains in the nation's inflation for the last five years, will be politically troublesome to the Carter administration.
Both farm prices and crude oil and natural gas are exempt from the voluntary wage-price program, although processors and distributors of food and energy products are expected to follow the President's price deceleration standards.
Kahn, headquartered in makeshift offices on the third floor of the Old Executive Office Building, said he has been hindered so far by lack of a personal staff, something he said he intends "to remedy soon."
He said he intends to rely mainly on Barry Bosworth and the beefed-up Council on Wage and Price Stability for most of the anti-inflation monitoring and planning. But he said he wants a "handful" of professionals around me, preferably on the White House staff."
"You can't be nude in one building with all your clothes across the street," the former economics professor and chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board said.
Kahn said he is looking for some action that will help change labors' perception that the wage and price guidelines are merely a wage control program. But, he said, he does not know what that action will be or when it might occur.
He warned that the program will not have much "macroeconomic visibility in the next six months." In other words, it will be some time before it has much impact on the rate of inflation.
Instead, Kahn said he expects a series of small triumphs, such as convincing the President to veto a bill because it is inflationary.
He said it has not been absolutely decided who will deal with labor in the inflation effort, but said, "I feel a need for an experienced person in the field" on his staff.
Kahn said he and the small group of White House officials that meet daily have set a two-week deadline for the option reports on the special problem sectors like energy and food.
He said a more complicated report, dealing with ways that the federal and state and local governments might cooperate to fight inflation, especially in the housing area, is being put together by Jack Watson, the White House liaison with state and local governments.
Kahn ticked off a list of local government activities that affect the cost of housing from local land use ordinances to building restrictions to property taxes.