In March, housing rents increased an average of 95 per cent here. In April, the price of gasoline doubled to around $1.30. A loaf of bread costs 23 per cent more than it did last week.

Despite these somewhat dismal figures, financial sages both here and abroad are hailing the Argentine fiscal recovery as an "economic miracle."

The recovery means that Argentina's inflation rate shouldn't go much higher than 120 per cent this year. While American consumers might gag on that figure, it is a marked improvement compared to last year's 347 per cent.

The man responsible for the miracle is Economy Minister Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, alternately the most revered and reviled government official, in Argentina. To bankers and businessmen basking in the glow of Argentina's return to international "creditworthy" status, he has been a savior.

For the Argentine working class, however, the benefits of Martinez de Hoz' policies are not as readily apparent. The rent increases and the high price of bread have been accompanied by tight wage controls that have sent purchasing power into a nosedive that is expected to continue into next year.

The economy minister's goal, oft-repeated and accompanied by pleas for public patience, is to force Argentines to live within their means and to convince them that they do not live in a country where a factory worker's family can own two cars and dine on steak every night.

For many, it is a startling realization.

Under the unique blend of populist totalitarianism practiced by late President Juan Domingo Peron, and later by his widow, Isabel, such dreams were often realized. Deriving most of their support from the workers, the Perons and their powerful labor union backers steadily increased wages and encouraged overmanning of factories.

The result was increased production costs, and a subsequent loss of competitiveness of Argentinian goods on the international market. As businesses approached bankruptcy, the government took them over and kept up the payrolls. Rents were frozen at 1974 levels, and most utilities were government subsidized.

By the time a military junta ousted Isabel Peron in March, 1976, however, even the workers were beginning to be frightened by the awesome inflationary spiral, which reached a mind-boggling 1,000 per cent during the first quarter of last year.

The only civilian minister appointed by the military government, former university professor Martinez do Hoz was faced with a two-year-old negative growth rate and a considerable balance of payments deficit.

These indicators now have been brought into the plus column, international lending his picked up and the foreign debt has been renegotiated. Thanks largely to an unprecedented grain harvest, foreign reserves are at an all-time high of $24 billion.

The strategy was a simply one.

Wage increases were halted by government decree. Union activities were outlawed, and collective bargaining prohibited.

While the Argentinian moves bear some similarity to the free market shock therapy imposed in Chile, Martinez de Hoz' policy has been one of gradualism. Where Chile cut its deficit at a cost of unprecedented unemployment, the Argentinian jobless rate so far has been held to 4 per cent under Martinez de Hoz.

Until last week, Argentine banks remained under Peron-imposed restrictions that gave the Central Bank sole authority to determine who was allowed to lend money and at what interest rate. For years the rates were kept artificially low, and private banks operated as mere government agents.

Since June 1, private banks have been allowed to handle their own money. "We're going back to the nuts and bolts of banking here," said one delighted bank director.

The banker admits, however, that the new freedom also mean "the end of cheap credit for consumers, and going back to what money is really worth."

For at least the next year, until the country is completely back on its feet, Argentine money is not going to be worth very much.

Public employees in communications and electrical services have engaged in slowdowns that they call trabajo con tristeza or "working with sadness."

Perhaps most telling are chants in the cheering section of Argentine soccer games - a traditional political forum. Under the Perons, a current cheer recalls, "We lived in luxury. Now, with Mr. Mustache (mustachioed President Jorge Rafael Videla) and Mr. Ears (Martinez de Hoz, whose protruding ears are a favorite feature of political cartoonists), we are as poor as field mice."