Last week in Chiacgo -- "the city that works," as local boomers still proudly affirm -- Ronald Reagen unveiled his economic program, a program for citizens who work or at least who want to work. One must keep in mind that working is not so feasible today as it was in days of yore. Seven and sixtenths percent of the republic's workers, becalmed in this Age of the Common Carter, cannot get jobs.

Under our president's roof there are counselors who advise that this is to be expected, for the '80s is to be a decade of limits, to which we shall simply have to habituate ourselves. Reagan is out of sympathy with this Malthusian perspective. He calls his program a "strategy for growth." One does not want to make too weighty a point of this disagreement, but Reagan's program does seem to place him more in the tradition of FDR, HST and JFK than the policy of lowered expectations over which the present administration purrs.

At any rate, one of the reasons that 7.6 percent of our citizens spend their days with idle hands is that the so-called liberals have in their wisdom set up various impediments to economic activity; that is to say, on the creation of jobs. Some of those impediments are government regulations to keep us saintly and healthy and down. Some of those impediments are laws like the minimum wage law that eliminates low-paying jobs -- the only jobs some newcomers to the job market are capable of -- thus creating unemployment and all the social evils that come with it.

Yet the most onerous impediment to economic activity is taxation. Heavy taxes discourage people from working and creating wealth. They discourage businesses from expanding. They force labor leaders to demand tax-free fringe benefits for their rank and file rather than wage increases.

Even though he came into office roaring that our tax system was "a disgrace to the human race," the tax burden has risen wondrously during the reign of the smartest young man ever to graduate from the Plains, Ga., high school. So has unemployment. So has inflation. Hockey fans might call this the presidential hat trick. It is an unusual achievement. No other president has accomplished it in this century. Not even Herbert Hoover.

In 1976 the federal tax gouge amunted to 19.5 percent of our gross national product. In 1979 it reached 21 percent, and under present law it is estimated that federal taxes will inhale 24.7 percent of our GNP in fiscal 1985.

To all these robust tax increases Ronald Reagan would do cruel violence. In Chicago last week he declared, rather eloquently I would say, that "more than any single thing, high rates of taxation destroy incentive to earn, to save, to invest. They cripple productivity, lead to deficit financing and inflation and create unemployment." His prescription is to cut taxes 10 percent per year for three years, and he wants to reduce business taxes through faster deprectiation. After these three years he would index taxation so that if the crafty pols on Capitol Hill continue to inflate our economy, they will not be getting away with ever larger hunks of the ever larger paychecks we are forced to earn just to keep up with our past standard of living.

Our president is a very smart fellow -- or a quick study, as the cognoscenti of Washington say -- and already he has arrived at his judgment of Reagan's tax-cut plan. He adjudges it a "very, very serious mistakes with economic progress, the Wonderboy ought to know. He has, over a period of eight months, fashioned three different programs -- all of them attemps to duplicate such New Testament feats as the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes and the Wedding Feast at Cana, where water was turned into wine. The Wonderboy's last economic program was announced on Aug. 28. He called it an "economic program for the '80s, and a glance at its policies suggests that it is not the decade of the '80s but the age group that the Carter admainistration has in mind. Apparently the administration senses that most of us are octogenarians, all bedridden and senile. Carter will keep us in our beds. His program would turn America into the largest poverty hospital ever heard of. He see America as one vast geriatric ward.

Placed side by side, the economic programs of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter reveal antipodal views of mankind. Reagan is the optimist. Carter is the pessimist. Reagan sees us as capable. Carter sees us as inept and wobbling for Skid Row were it not for government's watchful eye. Reagan wants to free us to improve our condition. He believes we can do it, and he is unafraid of the outcome. Carter is not so sure we can do much more than pollute our environement, cheat one another and line up for welfare. He stands with Kennedy and views the citizens' income as government property to be returned to us only for socially useful purposes.

In sum, Reagan views the American people as a source of energy. He wants to use it. Carter wants to conserve it for pumping rocking chairs on the front porch, for roosting before the boob tube and for other such dynamic purposes. The difference between Reagan's economics and Carter's is the difference between Prometheus and Malthus. Prometheus stole fire from the heavens and championed man against the gods. Malthus scowled, shook his old head and figured that the human race would run off the edge of the earth instantaneously were it not for crime, disease, war and vice. He was, naturally enough, opposed to the only one of these pastimes that is any fun.