THE CARTER ADMINISTRATION is evidently having second thoughts -- or perhaps divided thoughts -- on the wisdom of rescuing the Chrysler Coroporation. Those qualms are well justified. The latest message was delivered by Alfred Kahn, the chairman of the president's Council on Wage and Price Stability. Mr. Kahn declared on Saturday that Chryseler's new contract with the United Auto Workers is inflationary.
Clearly the full implications of the Chrysler rescue are beginning to sink in at the White House. All of the benefits of this alleged mission of mercy are short-term; most of them are related to the coming presidential campaign, and the value of labor support in it. The liabilities, unfortunately, will continue longer. The Treasury Department is getting itself into an active partnership with Chrysler's management, and will inevitably share responsibility for the future condition of the company.
As a condition of the federal loan guarantees, the Treasury is demanding the Chrysler obtain a matching $1.5 billion in unguaranteed loans. From whom? From people with a stake in the company -- its dealers, its suppliers, its employees and their unions. At first glance, that looks like a very tough line. But it means that a lot of working people, unions and small businessmen are now under pressure from the federal government to lend to the company. Could this administration, or any successor, allow Chrysler to fail under those circumstances, jeopardizing those people's savings? By requiring loans from individual employees and unions, the Treasury is undertaking an unexamined obliagation, of undetermined cost and duration, to the survival of Chrysler.
Mr. Kahn says that perhaps the administration won't provide the loan guaranttees at all unless Chrysler revises that inflationary labor contract. But revising a signed labor contract is no simple matter. It is, after all, a contract.
There's a better reason for the administration to reconsider the Chrysler case: it is wrong in principle for the government to try to ensure the survival of uncompetitive companies and to provide the resources to stave off painful but necessary reorganization. The labor settlement was inflationary. But a far greater danger of inflation is implicit in a policy of trying to hold up sinking companies.