SO IT SEEMS that perhaps we all got something for nothing after all. It's not the prize in your Cracker Jacks. It's the universe itself. That is perhaps more than you bargained for.

Some scientists now think that the universe appeared out of nowhere, from nothing; this from a bunch who have never believed the theory of the Big Bang, the putative original explosion that sent things flying and put us here in the first place. The Big Bang, they say, doesn't quite explain some of the quirks they see out there in the vast spaces, and so they've come up with another hypothesis. The new view, as Walter Sullivan describes it in The New York Times, holds that "the universe was born from virtually nothing. Its substance and energy formed spontaneously during an initial period of expansion when, in the tiniest imaginable fraction of a second, the universe repeatedly doubled its size."

Whether it was Big Bang or something else entirely is not a question on which we have yet arrived at a firm opinion. What we find so disconcerting-- so telling, really--is what these scientists are calling it: the "inflationary universe."

We already knew it was that, of course. It seems that we can't get away from it--that insidious phenomenon of modern-day life. Now it seems that more than our dollars are at stake. The very subatomic particles and charmed quarks floating around in the black are getting away from us.

What do the supply-siders propose now? The menace is greater than they had thought. Will a straightforward tax cut reach the outer stretches of those galaxies before the whole universe is devalued into the void? There is little time to be lost. The first thing to do is immediately to begin deflating with the CPI--the cosmic proliferation index.

If the Big Bang theory was too explosive and highly charged an explanation to be entirely plausible, the inflationary theory seems just a little too self-conscious, as if those overwrought scientists, looking harriedly for an answer, had confused the numbers in their checkbooks with those in their lab notes. But if it's true, and we really did get something for nothing, we'll be paying for it--just as the monetarists always warned us--for eons to come.