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Critique of Roger Altman's Financial Times Commentary

Roger Altman, founder and chairman of Evercore Partners and former US deputy Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton offered commentary in the Financial Times suggesting America and Europe are on the verge of a disastrous recession. While he may be correct, I see several problems in his analysis.

Roger Altman’s analysis and proposed resolution to the unfolding European financial debacle leaves much to be desired. Interspersed with a review the ongoing events are a great many hypothetical conjectures followed by conclusions presented as some sort of deterministic inevitability. Moreover, his proposed resolution, when compared to an existing model of what he proposes, does not appear to conclusively lead to a better result.

For example, he asks “How do we know that another recession is approaching?”. A more accurate statement would be “it is probable that another recession is approaching”. The simple fact is that none of us has a perfect crystal ball, and from what I can see there is no deterministic cause and effect mechanism that provides a conclusive outcome. Altman may be right, and then again, he may not be. To assert anything more than a probabilistic conjecture is at best an error of judgment and at worse hyperbole directed at serving some sort of agenda.

Altman follows by asserting that “there is no other credible explanation for the relentless fall in interest rates”. I suspect that there are readers who could provide other explanations. Whether they were credible may be more in the mind of the beholder. This is but one more example of the “in-the-box thinking” that keeps potentially great minds bouncing of the walls of the conceptual framework of worn out economic models. A failure to explore other potential outcomes and ways to reach them is more an indication of intellectual impoverishment than a deterministic economic conclusion.

Altman’s proposed resolution is “A single currency representing 17 separate nations inevitably requires a unified balance sheet behind it and, following that, a form of fiscal union. The time for denying the latter is over.” However, we already have an operating model of many separate governments with a unified balance sheet and some sort of fiscal union; that would be the United States. Clearly the observable evidence shouts out that this remedy is more than a little problematic as well.