In the popularity sweepstakes, economics ranks somewhere ahead of nuclear physics and behind foreign languages.

The reasons for this are familiar:

Too much technical terminology. Who can easily understand the meaning of such terms as elasticity, disintermediation and Pareto optimality? Who can spell them?

Too many complicated statistics. Nobody - aside from economists, nuclear physicists and math wizards - likes complicated rows of numbers.

Too little realism. Economic theories, based on assumptions about totally free markets, perfect information and rational decision-makers, all seem more imaginative than real. They are the stuff from which pure bunk is made.

Unfortunately, however, for those who would rather not worry about such things, many economic lessons are not bunk. They can be of considerable help in understanding how things work today and, particularly, why some things aren't working.

One reason that our system is in trouble, that it cannot deliver as it used to, can be described - as President Carter did last week - as a "crisis of confidence" in the nation's economic order.

The energy shortage, persistent inflation, lagging productivity at home and a weakened dollar abroad all threaten the health and promise of the U.S. economic system. These developments tend to sound general and rather vague but their bite is real. They are shortchanging most Americans and shrinking their expectations.

America's economic dream has turned to headache. The maladies, though, are not easy to diagnose.

In part, that's because the old order has changed dramatically. For one thing, it operates on a much grander scale than before. Multinational corporations currently do business outside any encompassing legal umbrella, playing out a game all their own. World markets now function at so many levels and so rapidly that even those intimately involved in them simply stand back and gawk.

The lines between government and business, too, have merged. Government has stuck its big regulatory foot in the flowing stream of free enterprise. Business, for its part, has gone on the legislative attact against beaucratics and its critics.

Signs that the nation is more preoccupied with economic and business matters are everywhere - in the rise of the consumer movement, in the growing interest in business education programs, in more extensive coverage of economic news.

And while the nation's mind is trying to sort out the facts, its voice is sounding cries of increased frustrations.

It's hardly consoling that the general public is not alone in its confusion. The experts are equally baffled. The old orthodoxies - about inflation, unemployment, market behavior - no longer are reliable. The policies they advocate no longer are applicable.

Faced with a broader agenda of social concerns, business managers have hardly been more successful at finding satisfactory solutions to such problems as safety, pollution, job discrimination, full disclosure and foreign payments. These issues don't lend themselves to standards mathematical solutions but instead seem to demand more intutive, less formulaic responses.

The story of today's economic dilemmas is chronicled in bits and pieces on these pages daily. But for every question that is answered by business and finance sections, 10 others probably aren't. So we though it was time to ask the readers: What questions do you have?

The Post invites you to submit questions about economic and business issues. Our staff will toss in some of their own and, in subsequent articles, attampt some explantaion.

A few sample questions:

Inflation: What is causing the current round of inflation" And why doesn't anything seem to be stopping it? What can anyone do about it?

Recession: Are we headed for one? And how deed will it be?

Corporations: Are some getting too big? Are they making too much money?

Stocks: Are they just a gamble or a path to financial security? Is gold a better investment at this time?

Taxes: Why can't Congress cut taxes for the man on the street? And why can't we make rich people pay more?

Energy: Why are we having a gasoline shortage? And why can't we take action against the oil cartel?