US industry -- who should get government aid?

What happens to the troubled Chrysler Corporation is only part of a much larger question that the American people must ultimately decide: * Should the US government bail out faltering American firms or industries that have lost their competitive edge, by guaranteeing their loans?

* Or should government help be directed toward US comapnies that are out on the leading edge of high technology, able to compete with the Japanese or anyone else?

To go back to Chrysler:

If the No. 3 US automaker founders, despite $1.5 billion worth of government-guaranteed loans, many thousands of American workers and their families will suffer.

But if the company survives only because of government aid, will other ailing corporations line up for loan guarantees or other buffers against the cold winds of competition?

"If [american companies] cannot compete successfully," says former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Arthur F. Burns, "They don't deserve to exist."

Loan capital, says Dr. Burns, is limited, and if too much is lavished on ailing industries -- because the loans are guaranteed by the government -- then "other, well- managed, successful enterprise either are denied credit or cannot get all the capital they need."

"Often," says C. Jackson Grayson, chairman of the American Productivity Center, "some of the most competitive American firms, those in high-technology areas, need loan capital the most."

Such companies are young, make major investments to keep abreast of -- or ahead of -- Japanese and other foreign competition, and lack capital resources of their own.

A recent US Department of Labor study defines those American Productivity Center, "some of the most competitive American firms, those in high-technology areas, need loan capital the most."

Such companies are young, make major investments to keep abreast of -- or ahead of -- Japanese and other foreign competition, and lack capital resources of their own.

A recent US Department of Labor study defines those American industries that are in trouble, or declining, and others regarded as comeptitive.

Among the falterers, according to the government report, are automotive equipment, dyes, textile machinery, metalworking machinery, electrical equipment , steel, rubbert manufacturers, copper, furniture, and footwear.

Strongly competitive industries, the study found, include aircraft, computers , paper, fertilizers, fabrics, textile yarns, power-generating machinery, some chemical products, and scientific apparatus.

"The government," says Charles L. Schultze, chief economic adviser to former President Carter, "should not be in the business of picking winners and losers" by targeting industries for special government help.

David A. Stockman, President Reagan's director-designate of the Office of Management and Budget, opposed a government bailout of Chrysler when he was a Republican congressman from Michigan.

Conceivably, the Reagan administration may decide to keep hands off and let the marketplace determine which companies survive and which fail. This in itself would be a major reversal of recent government practice.

This whole question of the relationship between the government and industry is one of the giant economic issues that Reagan -- as well as americans in general -- must think through and decide.

None of these issues exists in a vacuum, for the way they are resolved will affect the income and daily lives of millions of Americans.

A second such question is the future of US trading policy with the Soviet Union, currently restricted by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

American farm organizations urge the new President to lift the embargo on US grain sales to the Soviets, imposed by Mr. Carter.

Their argument is twofold: that American farmers lost money and that the pattern of world grain trade was disrupted, with other grain-exporting nations cutting into traditional US sales.

As in the case of Chrysler and government aid to industry, the grain embargo is only the tip of the iceberg of a more fundamental issue.

Is it in the US national interest to help the Soviet Union develop its oil and natural gas resources and, in particular, to help the Soviets build a vast pipeline system to deliver natural gas to Western Europe?

Carter, while denying advanced technology to the Soviets, granted authority to American firms to compete with Japanese and European companies on the pipeline deal.

Sometime in the 1980s, according to the Central Intelligence Agency and some other experts, the Soviet Union is likely to become a net importer of petroleum, vying with the noncommunist world for Persian Gulf oil.

If this is true, the argument runs, why not postpone that day of competition by selling Moscow the technology it needs to develop its vast Siberian oil and gas deposits?

"If the question were purely economic," says William B. Quandt, formerly with the National Security Council, "the answer would be clear: sell the technology."

But, says Mr. Quandt, the question is bound up with security and political considerations, which Reagan and his advisers must weigh.

Two factors tug Japan and Western Europe toward normal trade relations with the Soviets -- the desire to sell their machinery and equipment and, in the case of Europe, the lure of abundant supplies of n atural gas.

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