PRESIDENT REAGAN'S two choices for the Federal Reserve Board are both able men, capable of substantial service to the public in these jobs. Wayne D. Angell is a farmer, banker and economist from Kansas. Manuel H. Johnson is assistant secretrary of the Treasury for economic policy.
But both bear the burden of having been chosen because their views appear to run counter to those of the board's chairman, Paul A. Volcker, and to the board's recent record. Both have said things that suggest a less sharp concern with inflation than Mr. Volcker's and a greater inclination to take inflationary risks in pursuit of economic growth. Mr. Johnson, for example, produced some of the paper that his former boss, Donald T. Regan, now the president's chief of staff, used in his unconvincing attempts to deny the relationship between budget deficits and interest rates.
Positions change with circumstances, and it would be hazardous to try to predict these nominees' votes in the years ahead. That is particularly true in the case of Mr. Johnson, who is being named to a full 14-year term that will run -- remarkable thought -- to the year 2000. But it is clear that the White House intended these two choices to be another in the series of slings and arrows that it has been aiming at Mr. Volcker.
The White House -- rarely the president himself, but consistently his staff -- maintains an antagonism toward the Federal Reserve that is not easy to explain. The Reagan administration knows that high inflation in 1980 contributed to its first election triumph, and low inflation contributed even more heavily to its second. It also knows that the reduction in inflation was owed to the Federal Reserve. With these two new arrivals, Mr. Reagan will have appointed four of the Federal Reserve Board's seven members. That does not necessarily portend any sudden change in its direction. Just as the first two Reagan appointees, Preston Martin and Martha A. Seger, have not consistently voted together, it is unlikely that the four will form a bloc. But the Federal Reserve works in a world in which many billions of dollars are bet every day on future movements of interest rates. In money markets here and abroad, these appointments have set off ripples of anxiety about renewed inflation. The Federal Reserve will now have to lean over backward to avoid giving these apprehensions any substance. Since the economy seems to have entered a period of slow growth, this loss of flexibility may prove a costly handicap.