The job ahead
Since election day is only a weekend away, nothing said on this page today could, or should, influence voters. Most political minds are made up well before the last weekend of the campaign.
But since it is all over but the shouting, and sobbing, there can be little harm in noticing that the American voters, like the voters the world over, will be voting from their immediate condition. For the majority of them, that immediate condition is good. Therefore, the reflexive inclination is to vote for those in office on the happy assumption that the condition over which they preside will be continued by continuing them in office.
Under some circumstances things might work out that way. But don't count on it this time. Any realistic forecast has to be based on the fact that the methods pursued to achieve today's condition have themselves brought into being a new condition that will have to be met and handled by new and different methods.
The existing condition is one of general economic well-being. This has been brought about by a wise management of the money supply at the Federal Reserve Board, and massive infusions of new capital into US industry achieved by President Reagan's three rounds of tax cutting.
It has worked remarkably well, beyond the serious expectations of most of those who arranged these matters. How many would have believed four years ago that by now the inflation rate would be below 5 percent and the number of employed steadily climbing? New industries are picking up the slack in the labor market caused by the decline of old smokestack industries.
The Republicans could have used a Tory slogan left over from a British election of a happier (for them) era: ''You Never Had It So Good.''
For anything comparable in the way of a general sense of well-being around the country you would have to go back to the days of Calvin Coolidge or Dwight D. Eisenhower. Briefly, during both those presidencies the economy was humming along on a rising curve of prosperity, the dollar was sound and steady, and the outside world seemed to be quiet and a long way off. There were no major anxieties or crises in sight in those days.
But out of yesterday's conditions emerge today's new condition. The bottom line today is that all of this happiness has been built on the highest national debt and the worst trade imbalance on record.
Felix Rohatyn, the man who rescued New York City from bankruptcy a decade ago , writes in the current issue of The New York Review of Books as follows:
''The budget deficit is causing the national debt to grow at a rate almost twice the growth of GNP. That is a prescription for national bankruptcy. If that rate continues, interest on the national debt will grow to more than $200 billion a year by the end of the decade....''
Also, much of the deficit has been financed by foreign capital flowing into US markets for the high interest rates available here. If anything should happen to shake foreign confidence in the dollar and cause sudden withdrawal of foreign funds, the change in today's condition would be quick - and shocking.
The task four years ago was to get the economy moving ahead, without more inflation. The task just ahead is to reduce the deficit without ruining the economic boom, and without slipping either into inflation or a too-drastic deflation.
To continue with the things that have been done for the past four years would lead to disaster. Deficits feed upon themselves. The higher the deficit, the higher the proportion of the budget consumed by interest rates, and the less for funding those activities that stimulate the economy and take care of the needs of the people.
Just going along with things as they are today won't work. We have gone about as far as we can go by funding prosperity on rising deficits. If I had been in Ronald Reagan's shoes, I would have bowed off at this point, because the problems that lie ahead are immensely more difficult than those he has handled over the past four years.