BUSINESS ABROAD: A Few Little Sins

For a country that likes to think of itself as Europe's citadel of unfettered free enterprise and trade liberalism, West Germany has been acting mighty odd. In the latest of a series of attempts to set prices and regulate trade, roly-poly Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard last week announced a stiff tax on fuel oil: $7.14 per metric ton (about $1 per bbl.). The punitive tax, which Erhard himself describes as a "sin" against his free-market theories, is designed to discourage the use of oil, thus ease Germany's steadily mounting coal surplus of 17 million tons.

The tax will replace another...