Reagan's first year; Economy: a mix of gains, setbacks; President Reagan at one-year mark: still popular, but growing doubts about his ability to deliver
''How you look on the first year of the Reagan program,'' says economist Barry P. Bosworth of the Brookings Institution, ''depends very much on your income level.''
''If you have an upper income, you applaud the progress on inflation. If you are a low-income person, you either have lost your job or worry about losing it.''
Progress on inflation indeed has been the brightest spot over the past year, with consumer prices increasing at roughly a 9 percent level and wholesale prices even lower.
This progress, however, results not so much from the President's economic program, as from the deepening recession. High interest rates are the chief cause of the economic downturn.
The President hammered through Congress more than $35 billion in spending cuts, mostly in social programs. To some extent, however, these gains are offset by higher government outlays, including interest on the expanding debt.
''Between 1981 and 1983,'' says Rudolph G. Penner, director of fiscal policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, ''interest on the budget debt will rise by at least $30 billion,'' washing out the benefit of most of the spending cuts which Mr. Reagan worked so hard to achieve.
Apart from a few increasingly lonely supply-side voices, experts in both political parties - plus the President's top aides - now urge him to correct his course or face potential disaster.
''What I can't figure out,'' says Mr. Penner, ''is this refusal to change.''
Until November, Penner says, he had been ''one of the real optimists'' that Mr. Reagan's economic policies would work. Now he is confronted by a sign that troubles him - the upward thrust of interest rates over the past few weeks.
Wall Street, in his view, had been waiting for a signal from President Reagan that his administration would do something dramatic to curb the huge budget deficits that loom ahead.
What should Reagan do? ''Rescind the third year of his income tax cut,'' says Penner, thereby saving $30 billion to $40 billion and sending a positive signal to investors that deficits will not be allowed to run wild.
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