The slide of the U.S. dollar to record lows on key European foreign exchange markets is bringing with it increasingly sharp West German criticism of the Carter administration's failure to shore up the value of U.S. currency abroad.
The West Germans are upset only because a falling dollar makes West German products more expensive in the United States, but because they feel the Carter administration is playing what the respected Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper today called in a front-page editorial, a "selfish . . . risky game . . . that shows little responsibilty to the world economy."
Official statements on the situation thus far have remained cautious, although Finance Minister Hans Apel has warned that a continuing decline "could cause serious world-wide repercussions" in currency relations.
Privately, however, the concerns being expressed within Apel's ministry are much more pronounced and include a sizable dose of personal criticism directed against U.S. Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal.
The feeling is that the United States has not thought through its policy of not intervening to support the dollar and allowing it to drop rather dramatically to promote U.S. exports in the face of huge American trade deficits.
In Bonn's view, for example, a dollar deliberately made cheaper overseas will increase pressure on the oil-producing countries, who paid in dollars, to increase the price of their oil. This, they believe, will rebound against the Americans, whose foreign trade deficit is due almost entirely to U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
It will also hurt poorer countries and those already in financial difficulties and create additional deficit problems for the West to finance, Bonn feels.
Citing a Washington interview with Blumenthal last week in which he indicated he was prepared to let the dollar depreciate still further, the Frankfurter Allgemeine said:
"This explanation suggests the Treasury secretary favors a decline of the dollar because he considers it an instrument to promote exports. But it would be downright outrageous if the strongest economic power resorts to such a measure and unleashes a rate-of-exchange war" among several countries.
"The Carter administration so far apparently lacks a superior talent aware of connection and interaction in global economy. Blumenthal's performance shows that he is not up to his task," the editorial charged.
Slowly but steadily, the powerful West German mark has grown in value by some 18 per cent since 1975 in comparison to most world currencies. But it has gained 4 per cent on the dollar already this year and 1 per cent of that has come within the past two weeks, with the dollar hitting a post war low today of 2.257 marks to the dollar.
Today in Bonn, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Frank Weil met with a group of U.S. and West German businessmen and was questioned repeatedly about the dollar's decline. Weil refused to comment, however, calling the subject "increasingly delicate at the moment" and deferring to the Treasury Department on such questions.
Nevertheless, Weil left no doubt that his department was encouraging U.S. companies to look for more business overseas and that the United States was trying to deal with the deficit problem "by improving our ability to compete in world markets."
Weil said that until 1971, deficits were basically unknown to the United States, that foreign trade was less important, and that he did not think "we have as yet fully come to understand" how to deal with such things "though we are trying."
The fact that virtually all of that deficit is in oil payments is what provokes West Germans to charge the United States is "exporting its economic problems to others" by allowing the dollar to decline and thus increase other exports to cut into the oil deficit.
West Germany imports all its oil while the United States produces 45 per cent of its oil. Europeans generally are more conscientious about turning off lights and lowering thermostats, have less air-conditioning, more efficient cars and charge almost $2 for a gallon of gasoline.
Thus, Europeans generally object to paying the price in lost business to Americans' extravagant use of oil.
West German complaints about United States currency policies are certain to be viewed in Washington as mostly self-interest on Bonn's part, with West German manufacturers fearing a decline in profits cause of rising prices for German goods in the United States, and with the government here still faced with a severe political problem in the roughly 1 million unemployed.
But in Bonn, the government at least has not made much out of the impact on West German goods, pointing out that only about 6 per cent of West Germany's exports go to the United States and that considerations other than price have always been factors in steadily increasing West German exports despite a rising currency for several years.
Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Apel have both sought to "talk" the dollar up in recent days by claiming it was now clearly undervalued.
Thus, Bonn, officially at least, is seeking to make the point that the U.S. policies are not just potential trouble for West Germany but even more troublesome for other nations.
American and many West European economists, however, have criticized West Germany for being too cautious with its sizable wealth and not doing enough to stimulate its own economy and thus help neighboring countries export more goods to West Germany.
The West Germany have just recorded another embarrassingly large trade suplus for the first half of this year.
But Bonn argues that a stimulative policy would trigger inflation and thus jeopardize its own stability.
In addition, with roughly 25 per cent of its gross national product composed of exports - and with one out of six West Germans working in export industries - the West Germans are afraid to tamper with any change that could reduce those exports.
That is why, over the long run, they are also afraid of the U.S. dollar's decline.