Roger Altman, Rubinite

January 4, 2011
Hamilton Project under the aegis of the Brookings Institution.

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In April 2006, Robert Rubin and Roger Altman launched the Hamilton Project under the aegis of the Brookings Institution. The aim, broadly, was to push the kind of fiscally-conservative liberalism beloved on Wall Street: Rubinomics.

At the time, New York Observer columnist Michael Thomas sent Altman the letter I’ve embedded below; it makes for hugely enjoyable reading. Thomas sent it to me after reading my post yesterday on Altman and the other members of the shortlist to replace Larry Summers; I have to admit I’d forgotten just how close Rubin and Altman were. The whole letter is well worth reading, but here are a few juicy extracts:

What I read prompts me now to write to urge that you and your colleagues in this amazingly self-congratulatory undertaking cease and desist…

There are no new ideas in the statement. “Economic security and economic growth can be mutually reinforcing” is not a new idea, nor is any to be found in the page-long gloss that follows the enunciation of this bold new “principle.” If I may paraphrase Churchill’s well-known apothegm on the late Soviet Union, what we have here is platitude wrapped in cliché inside bromide – over and over and over.

Thomas then launches into a wonderful breakdown of the Hamilton Project’s advisory council: 12 Wall Streeters, 10 academics, 2 think-tankers, a publisher, and a management consultant. “At a time when enterprises like General Motors and Ford are back to wall,” he writes, “one might have thought some representation from the ‘make and do and hire and fire’ sectors of American commerce would have proved helpful, even insightful.” He then continues:

The sad truth seems to be, at least in the eyes of one who has spent enough time at the Four Seasons to have a sense of how this stuff works, that this really isn’t a program about helping the less-advantaged or getting the country straightened out in a fiscal and intellectual sense, this is an advertisement for a government-in-waiting.

This was highly prescient. The Hamilton Project’s first director was Peter Orszag, its second was Jason Furman, and its third was Doug Elmendorf. All three went on to high-profile roles in the very first Democratic administration to be put together after the Hamilton Project was founded.

If Obama chooses Roger Altman to replace Rubin’s former deputy Larry Summers, it will be clear that Rubin continues to have an intellectual chokehold on the White House — even after the financial crisis showed just how dangerous Rubin’s Wall Street-inflected worldview can prove to be in reality.



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