WITH UNEMPLOYMENT already too high and threatening to grow, it is time for a counterrevolution against a main tenet of the women's movement -- the one that holds that self-respect depends on salaried employment, the one that means that many women who don't need money are competing for the limited number of paying jobs available with people who do need money.

Until the late 1960s, most women who could afford not to work didn't work -- for pay, that is. Many of them did use their skills and intelligence in volunteer work. When I was a member of the West Virginia Legislature in the early '60s, the members of the League of Women Voters -- mainly affluent housewives -- were the most effective public-interest lobbyists. Because they had time to study, they knew the issues better than their husbands, who, after an exhausting day at the office, wanted a drink, dinner and a good television show far more than a discussion of Senate Bill 203. And again, because they had the time during the day while their husbands were at the office, they could patrol the halls of the capitol while the legislature was in session, buttonholing the members and getting their views across. But by the end of the '60s, women of this kind had begun to feel that they would be scorned by their sisters unless they got a paying job, that they could no longer pursue unsalaried work no matter how useful and stimulating it might be. This was a loss for them and for the rest of us.

Men have done the same thing -- and for much longer -- taking salaries they really didn't need simply for the ego gratification involved. There have been exceptions, like the business executives who came to Washington to work for the government for a dollar a year during World War II, and who should be an example now for everyone who can afford to work without pay. Working without pay, for those who can afford to do so, should be a badge of honor, not a cause for disrespect. Let's leave the salaries to those who need them. If you are fortunate enough to have money and not have to work for it, why not free yourself from the chains of paid employment and seek work that satisfies your heart and soul?

Speaking of the rich, or more specifically of those who have been rich since birth, most of them seem to me to have a dependency problem greater than anyone on welfare. The reason for their problem is the vast assortment of people -- attorneys, accountants, bankers, brokers, servants and advisers of all kinds -- who need to make the rich person feel dependent on them and their services. So from earliest childhood, those born into money are subtly and not so subtly informed by one person after another that they can't handle things on their own, that they need his help, his advice, to get through the day, the month, the years. When I finally figured this out, it helped explain the curious mixture of spoiled-child arrogance and what-should-I-do insecurity that has characterized many of the truly rich that I have known.

I have before me on my desk three pieces of mail that have one thing in common -- each offers something outside the sender's usual line of work. One from Washington Gas is selling life insurance, another from the Book-of-the-Month Club advertises a nightgown with "the look of fine French lingerie," and finally, the Americn Civil Liberties Union offers packaged tours, including "Montego Bay Unbelievable $349" and "An Incredible Week-Long South American Bargain Vacation."

Next time you let the gas man in to read the meter, be prepared for him to put his arm around your shoulder and say, "Sam, have you thought what would happen to Marge and the kids?" And can't you see the Book-of-the-Month Club judges locked in earnest debate about the relative merits of Maidenform and Lily of France? But what worries me is the defendants languishing in jail while the local ACLU is in Acapulco -- "Unbelievable for Only $499."

Until 10 or 15 years ago, middle-class Americans assumed that they would pay for their children's college education, that it might be something of a strain, but that the cost would be the ballpark of what was possible for them. That is of course no longer true. Most middle-class parents now must borrow heavily to pay tuition and related costs.

A similar change has occurred with the automobile. From the Model T until the 1970s, the cost of a new car was easily in the ballpark for most Americans. Now, if it's not completely out of the park, it's at least in the far reaches of the upper deck, I haven't bought a new car for years, and while my case might be extreme, it will not be so for long if recent trends continue. That is why I applaud Chrysler's attempt to hold the line on prices for its 1982 models. This policy, if accompanied by some interest-rate mercy from the Federal Reserve Board, and if followed by Ford and GM, could revitalize the American automobile industry. To hold the price line, Ford and GM - Ford particularly -- could use the same kind of break on wages and costs that the UAW is giving Chrysler - without which, according to Lee Iacocca, "we couldn't even get into this kind of price freeze."

A union that did not give such help was the one representing the workers at the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee. The brewery was not making a profit - it was operating at about 40 percent of capacity in an industry where 80 percent is generally considered necessary to stay in the black. So what did the union do? Five months ago it went out on strike, asking for higher wages and more benefits. Last month Schlitz closed the plant and all 700 workers now have no wages at all.

Of course, as with the car companies, management ineptitude had a lot to do with Schlitz's downfall. Looking for a way to boost profits, the company managers had changed the Schlitz formula, using less barley malt, substituting cheaper corn syrup and adopting a new process that cut the brewing cycle in half. The new brew tasted only slightly on the plus side of hydraulic fluid. The result was that Schlitz drinkers rebelled and switched to other beers.

Let's hope both sides learn a lesson from this story. Consumers really can tell a good product from a bad one, something modern management types try to deny. And companies can give raises only if they're making profits, a reality modern labor leaders would rather not face.

A West German shipbuilder has made the United States an offer it shouldn't -- but you just know it will -- refuse. The offer: a money-back guarantee on a small diesel submarine. If the Navy is not satisfied with the ship, the German company will take it back. Why will the Navy refuse? Because the offer violates two of its most sacred prejudices: one against smart business deals of any kind; the other in favor of a few large, expensive nuclear submarines instead of a lot of small subs that would be harder for Russians to keep track of.Why this preference for large over small? My guess is this:

Naval officers spend their careers looking forward to the day when the good things of life will be theirs, whether it's the accoutrements of a top job at the Pentagon, the gracious homes provided senior officers at shore bases or the captain's quarters on a large ship, richly furnished with a dining table set with gleaming silver and served by attentive Filipino stewards. There are no such quarters on small submarines or on the other small ships we need now. But there will be plenty of room for them on the supercarriers and the giant Tridents the Navy is building, and on the battleships being brought back from mothballs. The trouble is that the ships big enough to have the right kind of captain's quarters are also big enough for Russian missiles to locate and destroy.