Chicago — David Rockefeller kept right on smiling when he was introduced, not just as the nation's leading banker, but as "the most influential private individual" in the United States today.
Then the chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank launched straight into a spirited speech in defense of "big business."
Forty years after earning his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago School of Business, he told the school's annual conference here that big business is under serious attack on several fronts.
Mr. Rockefeller listed inflation and "the threatening shadow of special interest groups' as major problems facing the business community.
But he said he is concentrating his influence as a banker and private individual on converting "big government" into a supporter rather than an obstacle to big business.
Later, Mr. Rockefeller told the Monitor that recent studies carried out by his New York bank show that mushrooming government regulations add $120 billion annually to the cost of doing business in the US today -- a cost ultimately borne by the consumer.
"The cost of government regulations has become unacceptable," he said. Noting that even small businesses must wade through 7,000 pages of new regulations each year or risk being found guilty of noncompliance, he called for careful weighing of the benefits of any new regulations.
One result of the "American infatuation" with environmental regulations and similar restrictions on the free market economy, the New York banker said, is that "it has made our country less competitive than other industrial countries in the world, notably West Germany and Japan."
Other speakers were eager to join in Mr. Rockefeller's defense of big business -- and were more direct in their criticism.
Said Beryl Sprinkel, vice-president and economicst at chicago's Harris Bank, "We are clearly an overtaxed and overgoverned country at this moment." He charged the Carter administration with "gross mismanagement of our economic affairs."
Other local economists joined in the chorus of criticism.
Mr. Rockefeller, just back from meetings with European leaders who complained to him about "unpredictable" US policies, told the Monitor that the answer is for the Carter administration to be "more consistent and dependable."
He specifically mentioned Mr. Carter's embargo on US grain sales to the USSR, which he called a tough and correct response to "the Soviet Union flexing its muscles."
Mr. Rockefeller made it clear that he will be using his influence to encourage similar toughness in other areas -- most immediately the troubles economy.