If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
Wriston, Walter B.
The Insidious Side of Controls
What's your opinion of the Carter wage and price policy?
There's a history of wage-price controls that goes back to Ancient Rome. A former sergeant, whose name was Diocletian, put price and wage controls on some fifteen thousand commodities. The penalty for violating any one was death, which even Kenneth Galbraith would say was significant. These controls didn't work for the simple reason that such controls can't work.
I was a member of the President's Labor Management Committee when the Nixon controls were on, and I had some influence in getting rid of them.
I'll tell you what really bothers me about the guidelines. It's not that they won't work--that's given. There are 220 million Americans now with a tradition of inventing everything from the long rifle to the computer chip. They can figure out eighty ways around anything--including wage-price controls. But it's destructive for our society when the Executive Branch promulgates a law that can't work, without benefit of legislative process, and then says, "If you don't obey my unworkable law, I will penalize you by sending in the IRS, or blocking government contracts, or whatever." If you want to define an imperial presidency, you couldn't think of anything more imperial. Once you start this process, you build disrespect for the law over time. That's my real objection.