CAUTIOUSLY, the industrial countries managed to agree in Paris this week that the emphasis of policy now ought to shift to economic recovery. After some three years of worldwide recession, with inflation down sharply in most places and recovery actually under way in most, that sentiment seems safe enough--and quite correct, if not very imaginative. The gingerly quality of the final statements reflects accurately the governments' attitudes toward the international economy. Each of them wants it to run better. But none of them is willing to commit itself to do anything that it wasn't going to do anyway. And none of them is in a mood to be chivvied and pressed by the others.
The Paris conference was technically the ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development--in effect, the developed countries. It was also the dress rehearsal for the meeting at Williamsburg, at the end of this month, of the people who lead the seven most powerful of those governments. Williamsburg has become a dilemma for most of them. They can't get out of holding the meeting, but nobody is anxious to see much serious business on the agenda.
The Americans don't want to talk about the subject most heavily on everyone else's mind, their high interest rates resulting from their huge budget deficits. The French don't want to talk about their inflation rate. The Germans and the Japanese, whose budget deficits are sensitive issues at home, don't want to talk about stimulative spending. And so forth.
The long preparations for this year's meeting of the seven have gone forward under the dark shadow of last year's disaster at Versailles. There, you will recall, a nasty quarrel erupted over trade with the Soviets and especially the Siberian gas pipeline. Everybody wants to avoid a repetition of that episode. The result is that the advance work for Williamsburg has mainly been negative--negotiating firm agreements to keep this item and that one off the table and out of sight. In that respect, the OECD meeting indicated that things were coming along quite successfully.
Why hold these economic summit meetings at all? There's only one thing to be said for them: they force the burdened and preoccupied people running governments to pay attention to the international economy on which their countries' prosperity depends. The summit meetings are an educational institution. As frequently is the case in educational institutions, the benefits are visible only subsequently.