"Nice new cab you're driving," I told the cabbie. "Nice in a couple of ways. First, it's more comfortable for me than the old one, and second, I won't have to listen to any more of your guff about the president's economic policies. It's clear enough that things are going well for you."
"It's my cousin's cab," the cabbie said. "He took the day off to go out to the National Institutes of Health to see about one of those $50,000 jobs as an animal caretaker. It's nonsense like that that has the economy so messed up. Imagine paying a guy that kind of money to feed monkeys."
I explained to him that the $50,000 job was an aberration, not a policy. I had written about a guy who was unjustly riffed out of his computer specialist job and the government was ordered to put him back to work at his old pay. The NIH job was all they had at the moment.
"In other words, my cousin's out of luck," the cabbie said. "Well, it doesn't surprise me. With that man in the White House . . ."
"Now there you go again," I said with some exasperation. "If you'd been listening to the president's last news conference instead of that ignorant music you have on, you might have learned that things are looking pretty good on the economic front. Mr. Reagan is not one to boast, but he did let a couple of things slip: for instance, he said, we've had four straight quarters of growth in the GNP. Auto sales are up.
"Even in terms of jobs, which you get so excited about, he told us that unemployment is going up at just about the same rate it was when Carter left office."
"You're right about one thing," the cabbie said. "He did let a couple of things slip. I happened to read the follow-up stories that said the GNP didn't go up four straight quarters. In fact it went down in two of those quarters. The same follow-up stories said unemployment was going down the last six months of the Carter administration, from 7.8 percent to 7.3. Everybody knows that the next figures that come out will show unemployment above 10 percent."
"I suppose you're going to tell me he made that up about car sales being on the increase," I said.
"Not exactly," the cabbie said. "For 10 days of September, sales were up--the first time since May. But that was only because dealers were offering all kinds of come-ons trying to clear out the 1982s so they could make room for the new models. That's how my cousin was able to buy this cab. The only thing that's been up since Reagan's been in office is the number of bankruptcies."
"You have an absolute knack for looking at the dark side of any situation," I told him. "Surely you can give the man credit for reducing inflation. Housing prices are stabilizing. Food prices are falling (just check the price of milk). The dollar is stronger. You have to admit that your purchasing power is up because of Reagan's policies."
"You know as well as I do that the reason my purchasing power is up is because 10 million people don't have any purchasing power at all, because they aren't working. It's like saying I'm saving money on my heating bill because my neighbor's apartment is on fire. If Reagan had any compassion, he'd be looking for ways to create some jobs so people can feed their families."
"Don't give me that no-compassion bull," I shouted at him. "You folks are all alike. If the government isn't throwing money at problems, creating make-work jobs and phony training programs and bigger welfare checks, you see it as a lack of compassion.
"Well, Reagan had it exactly right in that speech he made in Richmond the other day. You know what he said? 'You can't create a desert, hand a person a cup of water and call that compassion."
"Okay, Mr. Supply Side," the cabbie said. "What do you call it when Reagan creates a desert and refuses to hand a person a cup of water?"
"If you don't like it here, why don't you move to Russia?" I explained.