THE United States economy is entering one of its periodic moments of reappraisal, when priorities must be reset. If history is any guide, the transformations ahead will have broad impact. We are not talking about a reshaping of the magnitude of the early 1930s, when the New Deal totally overturned the existing economic order. The readjustment is more of the magnitude of that of the mid-to-late 1970s, when deregulation occurred.
Political forces are shifting. In Congress, the lead now passes to the Democrats. They will shape an economic agenda quite different from that which marked the divided Congress of the early 1980s. The budget deficit and the trade imbalance head the list of the next legislature's concerns. The newly elected Democrats are inclined to focus more on traditional ``bread-and-butter'' (almost populist) economic approaches - bolstering social security, providing farm relief - than the more conceptual global goals of the White House, such as synchronizing US and overseas currencies.
The readjustment is evident outside government. This was underscored by General Motors' announcement that it will close 11 plants as part of a reorganization. Job growth, as the latest unemployment figures released last week indicate, continues to come in part-time work, not on US-owned assembly lines. Yes, it is welcome that the unemployment rate for October held steady at 7 percent. It is good that 300,000 to 350,000 new jobs were created. But it is not totally welcome that most of the job growth, some 228,000 jobs, occurred in part-time, as opposed to full-time, work.
The White House will likely try to foist off the deficit issue onto the Democrats - a trap to avoid. The goal, for Democrats and Republicans, is to get the new economic agenda right. If priorities are correct - such as a better balance between social and defense spending - deficit reduction should find its own place.