THE FIGHT over the national pecking order in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is over. It was not of great importance, says economist Edward M. Bernstein. Nonetheless, the results recognize that West Germany is the head of a ``New Economic Order'' in Europe and Japan has achieved a ``Co-Prosperity Sphere'' that includes many countries in Asia - ``and the United States.''
Dr. Bernstein chose those phrases consciously. One of Hitler's excuses for the aggression that led to World War II was the need to establish a ``New Economic Order.'' Japan was talking of a ``Co-Prosperity Sphere'' in Asia before bombing Pearl Harbor.
``These could have been obtained without war,'' notes Bernstein, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Bernstein was present at the creation of the IMF in 1944. The economist was chief technical advisor for the United States delegation at the conference in Bretton Woods, N.H., where 44 nations, including the Second World War Allies, negotiated the Articles of Agreement to form the IMF and the World Bank.
In that war, the goal of Germany and Japan was military and political dominance over other nations. Bernstein sees no such danger from these nations today.
``The Germans are no threat,'' he says. ``The Japanese are no threat.'' However, other nations in their regions do consider the economic might of these former enemies.
``The French will be very much more friendly with the Americans now,'' predicts Bernstein. Because of the economic clout of a unified Germany, he also anticipates a revival of the entente cordiale between France and the United Kingdom as these two nations attempt to bring balance into the affairs of Europe.
The policymaking Interim Committee of the IMF, at a meeting this week in Washington, approved of a plan negotiated by the Group of Seven industrial democracies for a 50 percent increase in the quotas of that 152-nation organization. That would increase the resources available to the Fund for lending to nations in balance-of-payments trouble from $120 billion to $180 billion.
That, says Bernstein, is significant. Quotas have not been increased since 1983. World leaders decided to make sure the IMF has more money to help nations in financial difficulty.
The Group of Seven - the US, Japan, West Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Canada - also worked out new national quotas that better reflect the economic ranking of these countries. The US remains number one. Japan and West Germany will have equal quotas putting them both in second place. They will replace Britain, which was given the second largest quota at Bretton Woods because it also represented the members of its widespread Empire other than the Dominions (Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and India. Subsequently, the British lost their empire but not their second standing at the Fund. The new deal gives Britain and France equal third-largest quotas.
William Baumol, a New York University economist, calls this new Fund ranking ``reasonable.'' With two other professors, Edward Wolff (NYU) and Sue Anne Batey Blackman (Princeton), he reviews the economic status of nations in a new book, Productivity and American Leadership (MIT Press). They use currency exchange rates based on purchasing power parities, rather than simple exchange rates, to make comparisons between countries.
This fairer method shows that the US has not lost its economic leadership. Such nations as Japan and West Germany reach between 70 and 80 percent of the US level of overall productivity, manufacturing productivity, and output per capita.
Moreover, notes Dr. Baumol, the gains in manufacturing productivity in West Germany and France have been slower than in the US in this past decade. But Japan and (surprise!) Britain have enjoyed greater increases in manufacturing productivity.
Japan is still catching up on the US economically, but at a considerably slower pace than 15 years ago. This, says Baumol, is normal since the advantage of sharing in the latest technology - often that in the US - diminishes with modernization.
Baumol welcomes as ``highly desirable'' the economic advances of other nations. ``It would not be good for the US to be miles ahead,'' he says. The US needs good customers and prosperous allies to share the burdens of world leadership.