A TIME SYMPOSIUM: Frank Discussion of Common Concern

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THE best way to solve problems is to foresee them before they become problems." Those words from Dr. Joachim Zahn, chairman of the executive board of West Germany's Daimler-Benz, expressed as well as any the sense of an unusual meeting in Brussels this month. Nearly 40 chief executives of leading European and American business and banking firms assembled in the Common Market's headquarters city, under the auspices of TIME, for a colloquy on their common concerns.

For most of the Europeans, the meeting was a reunion. At TIME'S invitation, they had journeyed to the U.S. 17 months ago to hear the views of Cabinet officers, Government officials and legislators in Washington. Since then drastic changes had swept the transatlantic business community: the dollar had been devalued twice, the world's major currencies had begun floating, a shortage of energy suddenly seemed imminent. For two days, participants analyzed their increasingly interdependent futures. A sampling of the discussions:


Most participants agreed that reform of the international monetary system had to start with a reduction of the "dollar overhang"−the $80 billion or so held by central and commercial banks, by companies and by individuals outside the U.S. Fernand Collin, chairman of Belgium's Kredietbank, proposed that the U.S. Government sell dollar bonds abroad. By so doing, said Collin, the U.S. would reduce the pool of volatile money and could use the proceeds within the U.S.

Dr. Wilhelm Christians, a managing director of the Deutsche Bank, said that the world would have to be patient while the U.S. tried to turn its payments deficit into a surplus. "Most people expect too much too quickly from currency realignments," he explained. "The experience of American industry is different from the European. We have had to export to survive. American companies generally have not. Many have preferred to export dollars, to build plants overseas rather than to export goods."

Robert Triffin, a member of TIME'S Board of Economists, warned: "Experience can only make you−and me−skeptical about the willingness and ability of responsible officials to reach sensible agreements." Yet such agreements are urgently needed, he said, "to end the present drift towards unilateral, nationalistic and mutually defeating policies, bound to bring disaster to all concerned."

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