WHILE THE SCENERY was splendid and the`food must`have`been superior, the Venice conference did not actually get around to accomplishing much. These annual meetings begin to be reminiscent of the gatherings of royalty in the q9th century, the pomp and magnificence of the affairs rising inversely to any actual political significance. But those royal conclaves at least signified peaceful intentions and good will among the world's mighty. Perhaps these meetings of the people running the seven great industrial democracies have become popular for the same reason -- that they are reassuring.
But it remains true that, for seven people supposedly there to talk about economic policy, the presidents and prime ministers seemed desperately eager to talk about almost anything else. The Venice conference was a great opportunity lost. There was pressing work to be done, and they never came to terms with it. The risk of a worldwide recession is rising, and the seven did nothing to lessen or defer it.
President Reagan made a fundamental mistake in allowing the budget quarrel here in the United States to remain deadlocked through this meeting. That put him on the defensive on the central issue and unable to respond to other countries' concerns that the American deficit is going to swing upward again and take the inflation rate with it. In fact, the budget deficit is coming down this year, and it's urgent that Germany and Japan increase their own internal demand rapidly to keep the industrial world stable while growth drops here in the United States. Japan is moving cautiously in the right direction, but Germany refuses to budge. Everybody at Venice agreed on the need for economic coordination. But as a practical matter, the actual exercise of it lay beyond the capacities of the seven. Blame Mr. Reagan first, and West Germany's Chancellor Kohl next, for a resistance that increasingly looks less like conviction than a stale and unthinking stubbornness.
Should the seven continue these annual meetings? They take a lot of busy people's time, they are expensive, and endless hovering by too many police helicopters is beginning to loosen the cement in some of the Venetian mosaics. But there are real benefits in this tradition. It reminds people, including people at the top, that no government can now control its economy or set a realistic policy independently of the others. It forces an American president to get himself adequately briefed on the international economy, a thing that most presidents would otherwise be unlikely to do. When the seven fail the test, as they failed it this year, these conferences make them`pay a certain public price for an evasion that might otherwise`go`unnoticed -- and`that's good. So by all means keep holding them.