Vail, Colo. — This first Vail ''World Forum'' was essentially a Gerald Ford wingding. Ford was the major attraction that drew former French President Giscard d'Estaing, former British Prime Minister James Callaghan, Henry Kissinger, and some 50 American political leaders, scholars, and corporate chief executives to this beautiful mountain setting.
The agenda, set by the conservative American Enterprise Institute which sponsored the three-day conclave, focused on how best to get the United States - and world - economies moving again.
Informal conversation, however, often gravitated to the US tax-increase package, which evoked less than enthusiasm from the Americans in attendance.
Some, like economists Arthur Burns, Alan Greenspan, and Paul McCracken, all former chairmen of the presidential Council of Economic Advisers, indicated support for the Reagan-endorsed plan principally because they saw no practical alternative to reducing the huge budget deficit.
They would have preferred deeper spending cuts. ''I'm supporting the tax increase,'' said McCracken, ''but holding my nose.''
But there was an interesting coloration to this gathering, something that might be described as ''Two Cheers for Reagan'' from the domestic-side attendees who made up more than 90 percent of the group. They simply don't care for the President's supply-side economics. Said one participant: ''Roosevelt went the big-spending glory road. And it worked for him. Now Reagan has tried the tax-cut glory road. And it's not working.''
''As you know,'' commented Ford to this reporter, ''I never favored the supply-side approach.'' Ford has played down this difference with Reagan over economic policy.
Later, in an interview in his valley home, the former President returned to the economic theory of stimulating the economy by cutting taxes: ''It comes, of course,'' he said, ''from Laffer and the supply-siders. It's a respectable theory. But I think there's a more pragmatic approach that would have been better.''
Ford's approach, as everyone knows who watched his presidency, is one of fiscal restraint and holding down spending. He would have provided tax reduction but only after spending cuts were achieved. In Ford's opinion, to do otherwise, as Reagan did, was to put the cart before the horse.
Ford believed that to push through a massive tax cut would probably end up with insufficient spending reductions and, hence, a huge deficit. That, of course, is what happened.
Messrs. Burns, McCracken, and Greenspan all are giving what might be described as token support for the tax-increase legislation.
But when asked by reporters if they would have preferred President Reagan to have followed the more traditional Republican approach to the economy - the Ford approach - they all said ''yes.''
Further, they all agreed that the economy would be better off if President Reagan had followed that path and eschewed what one of the three privately called ''this supply-side adventure.''
Ford, Burns, Greenspan, and McCracken all believe that Reagan now is moving away from his own philosophy. ''He's more of a populist than a Republican,'' remarked a congressman.
Said Ford: ''The President's support of the tax-increase bill is very visible evidence that he's now having to deal with reality.'' Ford added that Reagan had ''lost some time'' by not moving to a more pragmatic approach from the outset.
A number of participants observed that Reagan now is leaving Reaganomics behind. ''He won't say so,'' said one attendee, ''but that's what he is doing. He is calling it 'adjustments.' ''
One of the economists said: ''I hope that he has seen the light. He must be more pragmatic if he is to lick this recession.''
There seemed to be no supply-siders here. As one participant put it, ''I hope we've heard the last of Reaganomics.''