Legislation that will provide government financial backing to the nation's thrift industry (savings and loans associations and mutual savings banks) is now sailing through a congressional conference committee and seems assured of quick signature by President Reagan. Aspects of the measure are long overdue, such as allowing S&Ls to offer a wider variety of new services to compete with commercial banks and other financial institutions. Certainly any new source of profit that would help save the neighborhood S&L seems wise.
But the provision for financial guarantees is worrisome. Granted, the guarantees involve only paper, or ''bookkeeping,'' transactions by federal insurance agencies. But this still constitutes a new precedent where the federal government is providing backing not just for a specific company - the Chrysler Corporation, for example - but an entire industry.
A friend of ours from the thrift industry argues eloquently that S&Ls deserve such support because of their tight regulation by the government over the years. But cannot most US industries, such as steel, autos, aircraft, etc., make the same case? It would seem unwise for the federal government to get involved in the business of propping up entire industries. If that had been the case years ago, the blacksmith industry might still be around.