Reaganomics, another look

In the conventional wisdom of the moment Reagonomics is already a failure. That may be the case. Much evidence points in that direction. An unprecedented series of federal deficits loom ahead. High interest rates are hobbling the United States economy, unemployment continues to rise.

But is this the whole or even the most important part of the US economic picture? There are some contrary indications which are perhaps not getting the attention they deserve.

For example, the rise in unemployment in March was 450,000 but the decline in the number of jobs was much less -- at 152,000. The rise in unemployment is therefore due much more to an increase in the work force than to actual loss of jobs.

Another way of saying this is that the increase in population is more responsible than is the recession for the rise in unemployment. A decline in population growth and/or in the number of persons seeking jobs could ease the problem as easily as a rise in the rate of generation of new jobs.

Inflation is well down. This is a tremendous achievement. There is a visible possibility of regaining stability in the value of the dollar and in the foundation of the US economy. No one knows whether the check in the inflation rate could survive a rise in business activity. But at least there is a chance for Americans of regaining the kind of economic and dollar stability which they enjoyed during the Eisenhower era.

We hear a constant moaning about the rate of foreign imports. The number of Japanese cars which Americans want to buy is portrayed from Detroit as meaning either unfair Japanese competition or an alarming decline in US industrial efficiency, or both. But what are the facts about US foreign trade?

Well, the Japanese could probably afford to buy more meat and oranges from the US than they do, to the advantage of their own people. But an imbalance in actual trade between the two countries would be seriously damaging to the US only if it were not balanced off in other trade patterns. It is balanced off.

According to an April bulletin of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company of New York, the US enjoyed a net surplus of $6.6 billion in its overall balance of payments during 1981. The same source concludes from trade figures for the first three months of this year that the current account surplus is now running at an annual rate ''well in excess of $5 billion.''

In other words the dollars which the Japanese earn from selling their (excellent) motor cars to Americans come back home eventually by some other route. Probably much of it is spent by the Japanese on Arabian oil, which the Arabians then use to buy modern machinery etc. from the US. The net US economy is not suffering from Japanese car imports. Besides, Detroit is being pushed by those imports into more efficient production methods.

Obviously, the economic story of the US varies widely. Some parts of US industry are in severe depression, due often to too long delayed plant modernization. Worst hit are automobiles and steel. But in my own community I am having difficulty getting necessary work done. My builder could give me half a day for urgent repairs on my roof, but cannot get around to the entire roof job until late summer or fall, if then. He is ''just keeping my head above water,'' by which he means that he can just barely get the work done which he has promised to do. There is no unemployment in his line of work in his territory.

There are also some people in my home area who are overextended financially and are hard pressed to keep up with their mortgage payments. There are bankruptcies in the area. But these were people operating too far out on the limb of borrowed money. These are poor times for people doing business heavily on borrowed money. These are also times which put a premium on hard work and frugality.

I do not argue that Reaganomics is working just because my builder has more work than he can handle right now. Obviously, the US economy is going through a phase involving much readjustment. There is unemployment and distress both among people and among businesses. But if Congress and the President can work out a reasonable compromise on the federal budget which leads to a reduced prospect for federal deficits and if, as a result, interest rates come down to reasonable levels - well, would we be so badly off?

My own hunch continues to be that it is still too early to conclude that Reaganomics is a failure.

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