"Boy, that Reagan is really putting it to us now," the cabbie said. "I suppose you saw the report the other day that unemployment is up again."
"Sure, I saw the report," I told him, "but I'm not sure I see what you are so excited about. After all, the overall jobless rate was only up two-tenths of a percent--from 7 percent to 7.2. That's not good, of course, but I hardly see how you could describe that as 'putting it to' the American worker."
"I didn't say he was putting it to the American worker,'' the cabbie shot back. "I said he was putting it to us. As you may have noticed, I'm black. And unless my bifocals need changing again, I believe you are, too.
"That 7.2 percent is for them-- white folks. For us, unemployment went up from 13-and-change to 15 percent."
I conceded his point and admitted the trend was not good.
"Not good!" he screamed. "It's a damn disaster, is what it is. And did you see the numbers for black teen- agers? Over 50 percent. I tell you, that man's economic program is just about to wipe us out."
"The trouble with people like you is that you have no patience," I told him. "You shouldn't be that upset about a temporary increase--a blip on the screen, so to speak. That is only a natural consequence of the president's efforts to squeeze the fat out of the economy. The long-term result will be a much healthier economy."
"Healthier for who?" the cabbie demanded.
"Whom," I corrected.
"Okay, Mr. Intellectual, whom. Well, I can tell you it's not healthier for my nephew who lost his CETA job last week. It's not healthier for my mother, not when she stands to have her Social Security cut back. It's not healthier for my brother-in-law who's been looking for a job for six months now and is already into me for $400.
"And when people really start feeling the pinch of all the cuts Reagan is making in food stamps and job training and medical care and so forth, it's not going to be healthy for any of us. I mean, folks aren't going to just sit there and quietly starve to death."
"Look," I told him, "if you want to criticize Reagan because you're still in love with JFK, then go right ahead. But if you want to understand something about supply-side economics, I'd be happy to explain it to you."
"What's to explain?" the cabbie yelled. "More people are out of work--especially my people. Business is stagnating even for white folks. Interest rates are so high I can't even afford to replace this broken-down cab. Don't you read your own newspaper?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," I said calmly. "If you read it instead of just going off about one or two little negatives, you'd understand what the long-term payoff really is.
"Didn't you read the president's Labor Day statement? I've got it right here. Listen: 'Our goal in this program is: jobs, jobs and more jobs. I see the creation of 3 million more jobs by 1986, in addition to the 10 million already expected. I see an era in which wage earners will be taking home more money in real dollars and an era in which fewer of us will be looking for work.' That's what the man said."
"And did he say where all those millions of jobs are coming from?" the cabbie asked.
"Well, it was only a short statement," I said.
"Did he say anything at all to show that his supply-side mumbo jumbo is working?" the cabbie persisted.
"Well, let me see," I said, scanning the presidential statement. "Oh, yes, here it is is: 'Our policy has been and will continue to be: What is good for the American worker is good for America.'"
"Is cutting back on school lunches and medical care good for the American worker?" the cabbie wanted to know.
"Well, not directly, at least," I conceded.
"Is a 20 percent prime good for the American worker?"
"Of course not," I said.
"Is it good for the American worker when 71/2 million American workers are not working?"
"Come on, man, what's your point?"
"My point," the cabbie said, "is that as far as I can see, the president's program isn't working very well for the American worker or for America either."
"You're being misled by short-term indications," I assured him.
"Well, let me ask you this, good buddy. If I told you I was taking you to 39th Street and the short-term indications, as you call them, showed you I was passing 24th Street and then 23rd and 22nd, what would you think?"
"Why, I'd think you didn't know where you were going," I told him.
''You know, you're not quite as dumb as I thought," the cabbie said.