The nation may face mandatory wage-price controls if inflation continues at the present rate for another six months, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Arthur F. Burns said yesterday.
Burns, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute here, made clear that he was not advocating controls. He added that President Carter has "wisely" rejected mandatory controls.
But he said "the administration may be driven in that direction" by an inability to achieve further fiscal restraint, and the political difficulty of getting certain "structural reforms" such as a reduction in minimum wages, and subsidies to farmers.
"They then would be left with monetary policy or mandatory controls," Burns said, "and there is concern in the business world that mandatory controls might come along."
Burns, former Nixon Economic Council Chairman Herbert Stein and other AEI scholars talked to reporters at a press conference yesterday at AEI headquarters.
Burns said it would not be "proper" for him to voice an opinion on current monetary policy, except that "the Fed will have to take account of the condition of the economy." Burns left the Fed last year. He was not reappointed by President Carter.
It is clear, Burns said, that "signs of an economic boom are all around us" and that "the expansion will continue for some months." Business stockpiling, Burns said, is proceding "on an ominous scale."
Carter administration officials, led by Treasury Secretary W.Michael Blumenthal, have expressed the view privately that the Federal Reserve Board should tighten up its money policy. A regular meeting of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee will have an opportunity to assess, and shift, the basic policy today.
Burns's overall assessment of the economy comes closer to Blumenthal's than to that of the present chairman of the Fed, G.William Miller. Miller, for example, said he is not sure the present pace of inventory-building is excessive. He fears precipitate action that would trigger a deep recession.
On one point, Burns, Blumenthal and Miller appear to agree: Selective credit Controls would not be a wise procedure. Burns said that a 1969 Credit Control Act, "put on to embarrass President Nixon," should be revoked.
Burns called for "strong, therapeutic measures" to control inflation. "History shows," the 74-year-old economist said, "that there comes a point when businessmen and private individuals recognize that money is a depreciating asset and things they buy are an appreciating asset. We may be at that point, or perhaps have already passed it."
Burns and Stein disagreed on the current voluntary wage-price guidelines program. Burns would keep the guidelines, although he said that the government is losing credibility by trying to say a 10 percent Teamsters settlement is within 7 percent yardstick.
Stein would junk the guidelines now in favor of a five-year austerity period of tight fiscal and monetary policies. "We should take the risk on the side of restraining inflation, even if that increases the chance of a slowdown or recession 1980," Stein said.
In another economic development, operations in the nation's factories rebounded 0.4 percent in March after two months of decline, the Federal Reserve said yesterday.
The March increase put factory utilization at 86.3 percent, the same level it had been in December before 0.2 percent declines in both January and February, the figures indicated.
The latest figures include revisions of both January and February statistics.