Inflation, jobs, and politics

Democrats talk bravely about the damage President Reagan is doing himself and his party by openly and avowedly sending Congress a budget with a great big chunk of federal deficit built into it. But their talk has a lot of whistling in the dark about it.

True, Mr. Reagan told the country during his 1980 campaign that he could cut taxes, increase defense spending, and balance the budget. John Anderson said it couldn't be done. John Anderson was correct. In all logic Mr. Reagan's party should pay a penalty for having promised something which everyone knew was undeliverable.

But the serious question is whether the Republicans actually will pay a penalty.

My own guess is that the American voters this November and again two years later are going to be swayed by conditions other than the fact that they were promised something which certainly the promiser's advisers if not necessarily the promiser himself knew to be undeliverable. Pie in the sky is normal fare on the US hustings.

Voters seldom if ever hold such promises against the promiser. The classic example is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During his original campaign in 1932 he ran against government extravagance and promised, if elected, to balance the federal budget. He never did. The voters of America would probably still be voting for him were he still running.

Unemployment and inflation are two different matters. They count on an election day. If inflation and unemployment are both ''high'' on next election day the Republicans might as well forget all that talk of a new political alignment in the US. Any Republican up for reelection will be in trouble. The Democrats will romp home without even trying. The biggest single fact about the US economy today is that there are 99.5 million persons employed.

This is the biggest gainfully employed work force that ever existed in any enterprise economy in all history. We hear much these days about the number of American workers who are not employed. The number today is about 8.5 million persons. That is, roughly speaking, the population of New York City. It is a lot of persons who are unemployed. But more than ten times as many are employed.

Add to the above the second biggest fact about the US economy today. Inflation is down, well down, and may be headed even farther down.

Come election day those who are unemployed, including friends and relatives, are likely to vote against those in office at the time. But what about the 99.5 million who are employed, with their friends and relatives? The fear of unemployment may influence many. But the chances are that many others will equate their relative good fortune with Reagan policies.

The fact of declining inflation will probably be considered commendable among the middle classes, whether retired or unemployed. If on next election day employment is still up around the hundred million mark and inflation is down around 5 percent the great American middle class, including large chunks of blue collar workers, are going to be feeling friendly towards Reaganomics.

The budget itself is of course slanted towards the well-being and good will of business and the rich (who put up the campaign funds) and the middle classes, who are the most consistent voters. The blacks and the truly poor are getting the short end of the budget stick, but there is little sympathy for either group among the middle class and even less among the blue-collar classes of workers.

Besides, Congress may well step in and temper the Reagan policies before election day. In that case the Democrats who will have to take the lead in tempering both Reagan cuts in welfare for the poor and tax relief for the rich can be blamed if the net effect changes anything. Congress may well trim back hard on the Reagan program for guns for the Pentagon. But those who cut back on guns are vulnerable to the charge of being ''soft on communism.''

The Reagan economic program which is now incorporated in the new budget favors the rich, is careful of the middle classes, pampers the ''military-industrial'' establishment, and neglects the poor and black. It is sociologically unjust. It is probably wildly extravagant in its promises to the Pentagon.

But none of the above proves that it is politically bad for Republicans. Most critics of the budget have called it a gamble. If employment declines substantially between now and election day, and if inflation resumes an upward inclination - then of course the Republicans will be returned to pasture in droves. But barring such events the Reagan program, no matter how callous towards the unfortunate and how amoral it may be, is probably built on shrewd and quite possibly successful politics.

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