Madrid — During the long Franco era, they called themselves ''the lost generation'' - college students born at its start, but who were often banned from their university classes in the 1960s, along with their anti-Franco professors.
Today, both as socialist politicians in power and businessmen in their mid-40 s, they now dominate Spanish public life. They are among the members of the Cabinet of socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez Marques, the 42-year-old Sevilla dairyman's son - and they occupy some of the executive suites of Spanish industries.
In the 1960s, with more than 15 years of Franco's long and hard regime still to go, many of them abandoned Spain's elitist but controlled universities, such as Madrid and Salamanca, to finish studies abroad.
At such prestigious institutions as Belgium's Roman Catholic l'Universite de Louvain, where political exile Gonzalez studied labor law, Oxford University's Institute of Management, Harvard's Graduate School of Business Administration, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, young Spaniards on the move learned abroad what their own universities could not teach them.
These were the latest management and administrative skills, essential to the operations of modern government and private industry.
What they learned abroad is that if Spain wants to modernize its institutions for the future and meet the hoped-for entry into the European Community, possibly by 1985, then management methods must supersede the political extremism which had often crippled earlier Spanish regimes.
This is why the overwhelming Socialist Workers' electoral victory a year ago has brought pragmatism, not extremism, to Spanish government policymaking. With a few exceptions the Gonzalez Cabinet is made up of eager experts in their mid- 40s, many of them educated abroad during the 1960s and '70s.
Mr. Gonzalez has kept his campaign promise not to nationalize private companies except for the country's national electric power grid, whose takeover was completed last summer.
Bolstered by his finance minister's new planning committee, made up of economists and public administrators, Gonzalez has also promised that Spanish socialist planning would not copy the costly and unsuccessful interventionist French model of President Francois Mitterrand.
Many members of the Spanish Cabinet like Miguel Boyer, the pivotal finance and economics minister, have had time to work in government and private enterprise before joining their neophyte colleagues in Spain's first socialist Cabinet since the Spanish Civil War, which took place before many of them were born.
Mr. Boyer had already been both the director of Planning for Union Explosivos Rio Tinto, the country's largest industrial conglomerate, and later a senior economist at the Banco de Espana, Spain's central bank.
The ''go slow'' policies of the Spanish socialists are most noticeable where they count, in fiscal and monetary policies. Other programs include a total overhaul of the sprawling and patronage-ridden social security system, which comes under Social Affairs Minister Ernesto Llach. He is one of the country's brightest economists. The long-overdue modernization of both government ministries and strategic state enterprises has also gotten underway.
Instructions have gone out from Gonzalez's office to the senior administrators of RENFE (acronym for the Spanish railway system) and Iberia Airlines to cut down on their horrendous deficits.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Boyer has kept the money supply at 13.6 percent above the 1982 amount, compared with 16.3 percent in January. As a result, private companies and foreign multinationals have begun to expand operations and plant capacity in a country with record-high 16 percent unemployment, a problem with which Boyer has been less successful.
Spain's highest-ever $30 billion of external debt has not been reduced much since the Socialist Workers' Party took office last winter. But increased exports and high tourist dollar earnings last summer, a result of a 9 percent peseta devaluation, have ended rumors that Spain might go to the International Monetary Fund for a standby loan.
Boyer has also indicated that he will not exceed his announced 1983 foreign borrowings of $4.6 billion.
Expansion of exports to traditional markets in Latin America, the United States, and Europe is being pushed personally by Gonzalez and King Juan Carlos I (with Queen Sofia), as they make official visits both to sell Spanish products and the new post-Franco political and cultural image of a democratic Spain.