If the prime rates are down in Washington, it's because money is too plentiful to steal. The new figures are out on the income of people living in the 100 top metropolitan market areas. Washington, D.C., and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, the perennial leader, is ahead again.

Average household income in your nation's capital is $27,702. Only 11 other metropolitan areas have average family incomes in excess of $20,000, and only one, Nassau and Suffolk counties on suburban Long Island, New York, comes close to reaching the income levels achieved in Washington. With virtually all wage earners either employed by the government contractors (the favored way of hiding the true dimensions of government employment), average family income in the District of Columbia and environs is an unbelievable $13,004 a year higher than in New York City and more than $8,000 a year higher than in Chicago.

Another way to express the massive overcompensation of federal gevernment employees is to look at the total disposable-income figures. The Washington metropolitan area with about 3 million people in it had over $28 billion in disposable income while Philadelphia with somewhat less than 5 million people barely beat out Washington with a slightly larger disposable income. In other words, government workers, in the aggregate, are probably being paid 30 to 40 per cent more than non-federal gevernment workers.

The practise of giving workers raises to offset the inflationary degradation of the dollar insures that the public payrollers' lead in compensation will grow. Private sector wage earners' inflation equalization raises come more slowly. Thus, although public payrollers are major contributors to inflation, the present pay system tends to give them a money premium, a cash prize, for doing their work inefficiently and therefore contributing to yet greater inflation. Federal pay at all levels and in all jobs should be tied not to the contributing to yet greater inflation. Federal pay at all levels and in all jobs should be tied not to the consumer price index but to private sector wages in real or non-inflated purchasing power dollars.

Under such an arrangement federal employees' salaries would shrink along with everybody else's. We then could hope we would have built in some small incentive for efficiency and effectiveness in the government service.

Although the comparison is unfair in some respects, if you want to know what's wrong with paying government employees more than the worker-producers in a society, look at the Soviet Union. There is a special demoralization and cynicism that comes from knowing one is being taxed so that a parasitical class, which performs no readily visible, usefulfunction, may enjoy luxuries one cannot afford one's self. Washington and Dallas are two cities that both have a Neiman-Marcus department store; there is but one Elizabeth Arden beauty salon in London, Paris and Rome but there are two in Washington, D.C.

By compensating government workers at these astounding rates they are put on another track in life than the rest of us must run. Given superior pay, medical and retirement benefits, they know they will never need to rely on the programs they administer. They will never be on the line of olf or sick people queued up in front of their own desks.

They lack the motive to be energetic and curious and improvising to make whatever they are doing successful. The fruits of their work, whether sweet or bitter, are not for them, and this inspires a common attitude among government workers, a common attitude government workers have for us others - contempt. Why shouldn't they feel contempt for us over the years as fools, as persons who may complain but who always pay up to support them, and then at length, after years of paying up so they can shop at Neiman-Marcus and get their rub-downs at Elizabeth Arden's, we must end our lives indigent, standing on their lines, waiting for those much-advertised government services which don't in fact exist.

Against all this it's arguable that Jimmy Carter never had a chance, no matter what he may have thought when he was running for office. Once in the office he has acted more like one of us waiting on a government line than as the possessor of the ultimate big desk before which we line up. That may be because he is a politically weak man in a politically weak position, but what's depressing is that he has never even tried. He of the studied symbolic gesture, symbolic and material to the inhabitants of the federal honeycomb and they all carry but one message - you have nothing to fear from me.