Even the most careful newspaper readers tend to skip over stories about speeches by economists and top government officials. We admit to occasionally glazing over when a writer describes the latest ''monetary aggregates'' or launches into a long discussion of ''leading economic indicators'' - especially if there's something lively near by, such as a report on an upcoming Super Bowl playoff game. But we hope that many Americans noted the stories on a speech that Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker made in San Francisco the other day - remarks that put underlying US economic issues in clear terms.
Mr. Volcker reminded all Americans that ''we now have a rare opportunity - an enormous opportunity - to set in train a long period of growth and greater stability'' for the American economy. The Fed chairman reiterated pleas that he has made for reducing federal budget deficits and easing trade barriers as steps necessary to bring down interest rates and help improve the economy. But he also said something else that deserves to be kept in thought as the new year approaches. That is that Americans will have to find ''new attitudes and new approaches'' in the private sector to ensure long-range US economic stability.
Among such new attitudes, he noted, were profit-sharing arrangements between workers and owners, a greater attention to quality in production processes, more employee stock ownership plans, and greater worker representation on corporate boards of directors. Such measures, he argued, ''carry promise for changing the confrontational nature and brinkmanship'' that characterizes industrial relations in the United States.
Imagine - ''changing the confrontational nature and brinkmanship'' of US industrial relations. Is such a goal possible for a society that thrives on contest and controversy? The question will have a special urgency during 1984. A number of key labor contracts come up for negotiation next year. Some union leaders say they will seek major wage and benefit increases. Many employers, meanwhile, say they will resist such demands.
Neither management nor labor would be well-served by a year of confrontation. Few Americans would benefit from higher inflation - either as a result of firms hiking prices in anticipation of wage increases, or from wage gains that are larger than productivity gains.
The latest economic indicators out of Washington this week - showing the economy slowing - give Mr. Volcker's own Federal Reserve Board some breathing room on the interest-rate and inflation front. Any undue constriction in the rate of increase in the nation's money supply could abort the recovery. It would seem judicious that labor and management now give the Fed further breathing space by not contemplating wage or pricing actions that could only lead to a new round of inflation.