SAN FRANCISCO - A.W. Clausen has emerged from retirement to speak out on economic policy.

It has been 2 1/2 years since Mr. Clausen stepped down as BankAmerica Corp.'s chairman and chief executive and six years since he ended his service as president of the World Bank. Last month, he appeared in public to talk about an issue dear to him: the importance of U.S. leadership in solving world economic problems.

The occasion was the release of a 90-page report on the U.S. role in the global economy by the Committee for Economic Development, an organization of business and academic leaders. Mr. Clausen was chairman of the subcommittee that produced the report, and he represented the organization at a Washington press conference.

Deficit Reduction Called Crucial

The report's theme was that the U.S. must remain at the forefront as a "rallier of nations" on issues such as trade and international development. But it was Mr. Clausen's strong language on the politically charged issue of the federal budget deficit that drew notice.

If the U.S. intends to remain an economic leader, Mr. Clausen said, it must "get its own house in order."

In an interview here about the report, the 69-year-old Mr. Clausen once again didn't mince words. Trimming the budget gap ought to be the nation's top priority, he insisted. If nothing is done, he warned, the United States ultimately could experience a loss of international confidence similar to that faced by indebted Third World countries in the 1980s.

When the Music Stopped

"There is a limit," Mr. Clausen said. "Look at the debt overhang of Mexico, Argentina, etc. The world said |Wait a minute,' and the music stopped."

The Committee for Economic Development is nonpartisan, but Mr. Clausen didn't shrink from adding a personal political perspective. While he stressed he was not making an endorsement, he praised independent presidential-candidate Ross Perot's stance on the deficit and other unpalatable economic subjects.

"I think Perot has contributed; some of these important issues are being put forward," Mr. Clausen said. "President Bush and candidate Clinton are not talking about them."

Though no longer a salaried employee of BankAmerica, Mr. Clausen keeps an exceptionally busy schedule. He remains involved in the company's affairs as chairman of the board's executive committee.

Steering the Same Course

Meanwhile, he remains active on an array of issues such as population, the environment, and international business. When interviewed, he had just returned from Beijing, where he had attended a meeting of the China International Trade and Investment Council.

Mr. Clausen was always known for holding strong opinions and stating them bluntly. He hasn't changed.

Asked his views on the condition of the U.S. banking system, he responded: "One of the reasons the U.S. is not as competitive as it ought to be is because its financial system is out of whack."

He ticked off a litany of complaints, including rules limiting bank activities in securities and insurance, and prohibitions against branching across state lines.

Mr. Clausen also showed his dry wit, a side of him that often was overlooked in light of his reputation for being dour. Bank regulation, he said, "is like love: Too much is bad and too little is bad."

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