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Inflation and the third world; World Inflation and the Developing Countries, by William R. Cline & Associates. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution. $15.95 in hard-cover, $5.95 in paperback.; The World Energy Triangle: A Strategy for Cooperation, by Thomas Hoffman and Brian Johnson, International Institute for Environment and Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Company. $25.50; The Third World Calamity, by Brian May. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. $19.95 .

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Who gets what, and how can it be increased? Inescapably linked, these are the bottom-line questions of third-world development. Millions of words get churned out about them every week. How much it all illuminates is a moot point.

These first two books are written by established authorities on global inflation and energy. Mr. Cline's book will satisfy those who want to know where the Great Inflation that began in the 1970s stands now.

Successive oil shocks have put the world's money system under great strain and sent third-world debts soaring. Cline provides important knowledge, showing how inflation works two ways. Poor countries get uncertain prices for their exports, and inflation has cut the real value of aid. But it has also reduced the real value of debts, and a few newly rich nations, the OPEC oil producers, are getting more generous.

Nor is Mr. Cline stuck for answers on sensible strategies for third-world policymakers to follow. He and his colleagues at the Brookings Institution struggle valiantly to increase understanding, even if their arcane language and mathematical formulas can be hard to fathom.

"The World Energy Triangle" also offers concrete proposals. Cheap oil and free firewood are getting scarce. The authors would transform what they call a "triangle of suspicion" -- the West, oil producers, and poor oil consumers -- into a new cooperative venture to develop the third world's own untapped energy resources. The proposals, in this worthy but routine effort, are generally sound, especially to revamp the World Bank and AID to meet an energy-hungry world. A few are naive, such as those reviving appeals that OPEC evolve a two-tier price system for the rich and the poor or that the United States commit 1 percent of its GNP to concessional aid. President Kennedy first proposed this 18 years ago, and the percentage has steadily dropped; now it's down to a mean 0 .19 percent.


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