While America mourns the decline of the dollar, West Germany publicly frets over the rise of the duetsche mark which recalls the old saying that money never seems to make anyone happy.
Here the cause for concern is the increasing world demand -- by Africans, Iranians, even the U.S. Treasury Department -- to invest in and get paid in marks. German officials complain that strong foreign calls for their currency is making it more difficult to manage the West German economy.
"This is a very touchy and delicate subject," said one senior German monetary official, adding there is not much the Bonn government or its central bank can do to ease the demand -- and still be considered liberal-minded.
Not that any of this actually bothers the average West German, who finds in the stunning appreciation of the mark a certain sense of pride.
Nor, for that matter, is there as much griping as one might expect among West German exporters, whose goods have been made more expensive in foreign markets due to the stronger mark. Except for a few selected industries -- most notably, shipbuilding -- German export trade is as vigorous as ever. In fact, it increased substantially last year.
Rather, the worry beads belong to Bonn government officials and Frankfurt central bankers who see the deutsche marks being held increasingly by foreign governments in reserve accounts and doubt the West German economy is big enough to sustain the pressures that come with being a worldwide reserve currency.
Recent statements by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Bundesbank president Karl Otto Poehl and others have attempted to repudiate a take-charge role for the deutsche mark.And a current Bundesbank report devotes a chapter to assembling every conceivable reason an increasing deutsche mark reserve role is in the interest of neither West Germany nor the world.
"The rush into the deutsche mark poses considerable problems for Germany," concludes the report.
Some of this, of course, is the usual German painstaking to downplay its own increasing influence in the world, which has begun to appear as a natural outgrowth of West Germany's postwar economic success. German officials concede privately that the deutsche mark has to play a certain inevitable role as a reserve currency.
Already the mark is, after the dollar, the second most important international investment currency.Private investors have more than doubled their holdings in German capital markets since 1974. Fully one-sixth of official reserves in Western Europe are now in marks. Worldwide, mark holdings more than doubled in 1978, and they continued to build last year, pushing the German currency's share to more than 11 percent of all reserves, according to the Bundesbank report.
The strong preference for deutsche marks began in the early 1970s with a weakening interest in the pound sterling, then accelerated as central banks started swapping cheaper dollars for marks as well.
But as much as German monetary officials worry about the trend, they have brought some of it on themselves by taking firm measures to keep inflation down at home, which ultimately has raised the value of the mark abroad.
There is every indication the Bundesbank intends in the coming year to keep an equally tight rein on the German money supply.
Foreign banking authorities reportedly have urged West Germany simply to yield to the pressure of international markets and accept the reserve role of the mark as a kind of international obligation.
But German monetary officials fear that the greater the number of marks held by foreign governments, the more vulnerable the German economy becomes to the destabilizing effects of fluctuations in investment or withdrawal of its currency.
For West Germany, which is three times more dependent on foreign trade than America, the chance for such instability is all the greater.
Bonn has thus tried hard to discourage diversification into marks. It has foiled some speculators by banning foreign investors from the short-term bond market. At the same time, the government has refused to issue floating-rate notes.
Stronger measures have been contemplated but appear unlikely. "We would not advocate restriction in capital movements," said one Bonn Official. w
Interest in the mark as an investment opportunity was also somewhat diverted in recent months by the rush for gold. Moreover, concern here over potential problems found some relief in the fact that West Germany, for the first time since 1965, registered a current account deficit last year. A deficit country can tolerate capital imports better than a surplus country.
The U.S. dollar still accounts for about 80 percent of world official reserves and more than half of the currency used in world trade, according to the Bundesbank. German monetary officials say there is no alternative to the dollar and express the hope it will return to what they call its "natural" function as a key currency of the western world.