President Mitterrand's call for a ''world plan'' to reconstruct the international economic system helps put the spotlight on the forthcoming summit meeting at Williamsburg, Va. Economic summits tend to draw a public yawn, even though the issues they address are of paramount importance. So the French leader's proposals should at least stir public debate and interest.
Today the Western industrial nations are treading uncharted paths. They confront enormous change: namely, a restructuring of the global economy as a result of the declining economic weight of the United States (down from a high 70 percent to 40 percent of the gross world output) and the meteoric rise not only of Japan and the European Community but of a whole number of newly industrialized countries (NICs) - South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, and others. At the same time they must deal with the growing financial burdens of the poorer countries if the international financial system is to remain stable. And all this in a climate of lingering recession, high unemployment, and demands on public treasuries.
Is international economic planning the way to meet the challenge? Or a reorganization of the world monetary system? Most Western nations will be cool to the French idea. Indeed what is needed are not new organizations or systems - but the political will and resolve of each member of the global community to make existing institutions and arrangements work. There are mechanisms galore for coordinating policies (all established in the post-World War II period). There is not always, however, a sense of mutual responsibility, a willingness to pursue wise national policies and to eschew the excessive nationalism standing in the way of cooperation.
As the major industrial nations prepare for the Williamsburg gathering, the prescriptions for progress are quite clear: