The awkward timing should not obscure the merit of President Reagan's suggestion that the United Nations spend six months of the year in Moscow.

It may have been impolitic for him to knock the United Nations just as he was about to use it as a set for striking a peacenik's pose, and at a time when he may have to call upon its peace-keeping force to dig him out of Lebanon, but his point is sound.

The minds of the world organization, which are much given to maundering, would be wonderfully focused by the prospect of dividing their time between the capital of world communism in winter and steaming, irascible New York in summer.

Such an arrangement, would, it is true, seriously menace the comfort of the Turtle Bay debating society, but think what it could do for the people who have to stay in the Soviet Union all the time.

If all the personnel of the United Nations were to make the move, some 35,000 new people would be decanted into Red Square. And, since the KGB makes a practice of following all foreigners around, Yuri V. Andropov's old outfit could be taxed to the breaking point by such a levy on its resources.

It is possible that the KGB would have to cut down on harassing its own people. Maybe Andrei Sakharov could sneak in a call to the West while some agent was busy masquerading as a chauffeur for the Chad delegation. If they had to dip into prison personnel for shadows, maybe Anatoly Scharansky could breathe a little easier.

We must not be chauvinistic about this. New York is not always a day at the beach, but compared with the Kremlin it is heaven on earth.

True, you might get mugged on Manhattan's subway, and Gotham cabbies will talk your arm off, but in Moscow you can't get a cab at all. One U.S. businessman ended up in a straitjacket after four days of trying to get one in the taxi-line outside his hotel to drive him where he wanted to go.

Another hazard--and this would be particularly daunting to diplomats, who hardly ever eat at home--is the primitive quality of socialist dry cleaning. The first secretary either goes forth with the soup stain on his vest or reeking of kerosene. Space they can do, but earthly amenities elude the comrades.

That is the odd thing about them. Their classical ballet is matchless, their rocketry alarming, but the everyday is totally beyond them.

They cannot grow food, for instance. Possibly, it is because their national character has been so shaped by the paranoia that is the result of the historic invasions of the motherland that they spend time that should be given to watering or weeding to looking over their shoulders. Whatever the cause, the result of the failure is that Muscovites, unless they have access to hard-currency stores, spend half their lives in food lines, at the end of which they may or may not get a head of cabbage.

The hopeful view might be that the Soviets would become so obsessed with competing with New York that they would plunge into a consumer contest, flooding Moscow with delis and coffee shops and Bergdorf-Goodmans. The risk is that they would, as they so often do, get hold of the wrong end of the stick and teach their citizens to be short with strangers and try to recreate the Times Square hooker scene.

Behind Reagan's suggestion, of course, is the abiding right-wing neurosis, which is the belief that people who haven't been to Moscow are irresistibly drawn to the Soviet way of life. But any study of the human traffic flow, especially in recent years, should convince Reagan and company that the rest of the world has long since caught on to the fact that free is better.

But there's no convincing conservatives, and they are forever wanting to squander millions to influence what they feel is an unfair contest.

They will tell you that the Soviets out spend us on propaganda by horrendous ratios. They want a Radio Marti to tell Havana how tough things are in Cuba.

The fact that nobody builds home-made air balloons to escape to East Germany or that the Soviet Union has no illegal immigration problem does not reassure them.

They truly believe that Third World countries and European brains are closet Reds. The right-wing worry goes back to the '30s, when many American intellectuals joined the Communist Party because the Great Depression had shaken their faith in the capitalist system.

But that was a long time ago, and since then just about everybody has caught on to the terrible chasm between the dream of Marx and the reality as endured in the Soviet Union.

The thought of experiencing it first-hand may cause delegates from small, self-righteous countries to cut down on the lectures and votes against us. On the other hand, they might brand the mere threat as a violation of human rights as bad as anything the Soviets commit, something Reagan says they don't pay nearly enough attention to.