As Robert Reich suggests in his critique of the political role of the investment community {"Memo From Main Street to Wall Street: 'Drop Dead!' " Outlook, Dec. 6}, the collective presence of Wall Street in Washington is basically as lobbyist. Wall Street wants the largest possible slice of the economic pie, and thus its interest and the public interest can conflict.

What Reich fails to recognize is that he, too, is a lobbyist -- for a particular vision of the Democratic Party. That vision has its own agenda for the distribution of the economic pie, and it, no less than Wall Street's, raises conflicts between private interests and the public at large. What is troubling about Reich's vision is that it -- and not Wall Street's -- is symptomatic of the political disease that has carried our economy to its current perilous state.

What does Wall Street want? To be sure it will ask for and accept any imaginable tax loophole, regulatory relief, or other bauble from the public sector. But first and foremost, Wall Street needs healthy financial markets -- and so does the rest of the economy. In that, the public interest and Wall Street's interest most emphatically coincide. And the disease that threatens our financial health is the federal budget deficit. Yet Reich belittles this disease and its most vivid symptoms, instead peddling an array of nostrums different only in detail from those now on the patient's shelf.

Reich characterizes the stock market crash of "Black Monday" as almost salutary -- "a fevered child awaking from its hallucinations." The awakening, Reich hopes, is to his particular policy agenda. He writes that the nation is weak from too much consumption and a failure to invest in an array of projects of his choosing: public infrastructure and research and development; private plant and equipment. The need is not for a reduction in the federal budget deficit, as Wall Street says, but for a reinvestment program including new federal tax incentives and spending initiatives.

This vision sorely lacks the most basic economic perspective. If our economic weakness comes solely from long-term overconsumption and inability to compete, then why did Tokyo and Frankfurt and London and Hong Kong crash along with Wall Street? Why wouldn't the prospect of a United States consuming more and more imports as it continued its slow decline send our competitors' markets into ecstasy?

The reason is that this enormous financial spasm, whose nearly catastrophic results should be welcomed by no one, was precipitated not by a perceived long-term U.S. economic decline, but rather by our unprecedented short-term budgetary maladjustment. While the worst has passed, Wall Street, and the other financial markets, continue to tremble. Before we allow another, perhaps worse panic to threaten both stock and bond markets, bringing high interest rates and bankruptcies along with falling equity values, we must bring our budget under control.

It is here that Reich would perpetuate and even worsen the instability. To him, the deficit is a problem, but not one so serious as to dominate his agenda. He wants more tax incentives for saving and investment: expanded IRAs (never mind that we tried these over the past five years, and had saving decline to record lows) and a reinstated investment credit (never mind that our investment credit coincided with the period of our industrial decline). And he wants more federal spending for infrastructure (more pork barrel water and highway projects?), education, training, etc. Yet every dollar of lost revenue and added spending from this program would add to our nation's borrowing, expand our national consumption at the expense of our national saving and make our immediate danger, the federal budget deficit, even worse.

Like Robert Reich, Ronald Reagan sees the deficit as a disease to be purged -- but not at the expense of his agenda: higher defense spending, lower taxes. In this respect, the two mindsets -- seemingly so different otherwise -- are exactly the same. In fact, Reich's vision for the Democratic Party would not, as he thinks, negate the Reagan legacy. Rather, it would perpetuate and institutionalize what is perhaps the president's most enduring and significant legacy -- the federal budget deficit. Many politicians and policy analysts rightly point to public needs that have gone unmet as the budget has been held motionless by deficit paralysis. But movement to meet these needs must be earned by other, preceding steps to cut the deficit, or the risks and the costs of our current predicament will be reduced not a whit.

Reich's failings are shared by the entire current crop of prescriptions for the Democratic Party. All would substitute the joy of spending for the joy of tax cuts as preached in supply-side economics -- and in a manner that is just as intellectually loose. While the 1981 tax cuts sent the economy diving into an empty swimming pool, in the anticipation that supply-side economics would quickly provide the water, so Reich and company would send the battered economy on another dive, with public investment subsidies running for the garden hose.

The United States does not need another prescription for partisan advantage promising painless growth and happiness. Better would be an honest and forthright diagnosis of our ailments, and leadership in the search for a cure. The writer is a senior research associate at the Urban Institute. r