One of Washington's leading business executives used uncharacteristically harsh words yesterday to castigate the federal government in general and the Carter administration, in particular.
Charging that the government itself is a major contributor to inflation and other economic woes, American Security Corp. Chairman Carleton Stewart said an "impasse of inaction... has settled on this land."
Using the language of muckrakers about big business at the turn of the century, Stewart told the Wharton School club here that "vested interests... have just become too powerful in our system," and that discipline has been "thrown to the winds as the cost of trying to please every group outraces the generation of revenues."
Referring to the growing likelihood of significant oil shortages, Stewart had strong words for President Carter, although he didn't mention him by name.
"... When it comes to reducing gasoline consumption, nice slogans are no match for higher prices at the pump... changes in social behavior can be accompanied by changing incentives that induce people to act," he said, attributing that sentiment to Carter economic adviser Charles Schultze and adding: "Let us hope that Charlie Schultze's counsel is now listened to in the White House."
Further, Stewart said that one "of our first problems is to overcome the attempts of politicians to put the blame where it doesn't belong." The executive mentioned Carter's recent statement, that "it's a myth government itself can stop inflation. Success or failure in this overall effort will largely be determined by the private sector."
Said Stewart: "My friends, if the president and other key government officials really believe this we have a lot of work to do."
Stewart's firm is the holding company for Washington's second-largest financial institution, American Security Bank. The speech yesterday, at the Army-Navy Club, was Stewart's first major economic assessment since assuming leadership of the bank firm in March 1976 and was one of the strongest criticisms of the government from a business leader in the months since Carter mandated wage and price guidelines to control inflation.
The bank officer said business will give the administration guidelines "technical support" but said that they are "merely a short-term political barbiturate." The controls won't work in the long run because they "don't address the cause... in truth, they are price controls by another name," Stewart added.