English Political Economy Politics

Iceland: The Financial Collapse As A Political And Moral Scandal

Translated from “Darf ich Ihnen das Einwohnerverzeichnis anbieten?“, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 17 Feb 2009

(original German translation by Gudrun M. H. Klöse)

Waiter! The Icelandic Phonebook, please!
Why Iceland’s financial collapse is a political and moral scandal / by Einar Mar Gudmundsson

Once upon a time there was a cannibal flying first class. Given an extensive menu, he politely thanked the stewardess, then handed it back and said: “I cannot find anything good for a snack. Would you be so kind and bring me the passenger list, please?”

I don’t want to equate the richest Icelanders, who together with the Government have left us out in the cold, with man-eaters, at least not in the literal sense: but after becoming incredibly wealthy, it looks like they went back to the Government and the Supervisory authorities and said: there is nothing crispy enough for us to gobble any longer. Would you be please as friendly as to provide us with the list of all Icelandic children?

And I am not saying that anybody should be compared to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, but the Government and their Regulatory Authorities look like they have replied to the country’s Monetary Aristocracy: “Yes, please, here’s the list of all Icelanders. Can we do anything else for you?”

This is nothing short of treason, and therefore we require and pretend, we, who only can claim to have children and grandchildren, the freezing of everything of value that has been used to enrich people at our own expenses. And those people must be made accountable for their actions. Since the justification for their high salaries was the fact that they were working against targets, then we should now take them at their words, and identify their responsibilities. Instead their loss has been nationalized, and the whole System invited to investigate itself.

Under these circumstances, even Franz Kafka would appear like a dry realist. True, it can be claimed that the Government is now gone, and the leadership of the Financial Control Council has been replaced: still, the old system still leads a good life. Corruption in the finance world extends up to the new government of Geir Haarde, while Iceland sits on a debt of thousands of billions of Krones. And it is us the ones that have to pay those debts, together with our children and grandchildren, now fully dependent on the good graces of the IMF and other lenders.

And in these “Tohu va bohu” times, void and without form like the world at the beginning of Creation, one should ask oneself if perhaps Karl Marx had it right all along. A friend of mine, who’s got all the volumes of the “Capital” and has even read them, told me that a condition like the one we are going through is described in the third volume. Few have read this book, and I haven’t, because there is so much mathematics in the second one.

My friend says that Marx deals in the third volume with “fictitious capital”: that means capital not with actual property behind profit, but rather with worthless pieces of paper that change hands, worthless in the sense of unreal.

That’s the box of tricks played with by the Icelandic Neokapitalists, stylishly and zippily wearing the nickname of Export Vikings. They were shining as demigods devoting themselves to noble tasks, and their wives to the plight of children in Africa, all of that, in newspapers which they owned anyway. Men bought themselves a place into companies, won the majority stakes therein, founded new companies, propped up one another and then pocketed the values of the old companies, that is, what was owned by the shareholders. That’s how the box of tricks worked, and many healthy, profitable companies have been lost along the way. Then those men went back to appear on their newspapers, with their own Alpine ski slope, luxury homes in Manhattan and yachts in Florida.

You may have noticed that I used the expression “box of tricks”. That’s not completely true. Actually, everything went according to the rules of the free market. No laws and no regulations prevented the actions of the financial Barons. The Government slumbered on, shrugged the issues away and cheered up the Money Lords, to the point that Ministers would feel more or less offended when not invited to the parties where the glitz and glamor of Hollywood rubbed shoulders with Iceland.

The basis of this system was the coalition between the Independent Party and the Progress Party, as if in a “Fishing Quotas” system, but with the right to trade and make money about fish that had yet not been caught. Soon under the coalition, the banks were privatized, without rules and without any control for the new management. The leaders of those parties, David Oddsson and Halldãr Ásgrímsson, had twelve years of experience at the Government bank. They were so keen with the privatization of banks, they generously threw in summer homes and art collections with the privatization. Anybody and everybody who criticized the new system was summarily classified as jealous, dumb or outdated.

The business sector assumed power in the country. It was based on the so-called Economic Council. Either had legislators in their bag, or these took a long nap throughout their mandate. In one declarition by the Council it is stated ‘Arguments against public regulation and control of the financial market are more convincing than arguments in favor of such meddling. It would be sensible to encourage market partners to define their own rules and abide by those”.

And about the success of their maneuvering: “An investigation by the Economic Council revealed that the Parliament in 90 percent of cases followed the recommendations of the Council itself.”
The Economic Council had de-facto got in charge, without anyone noticing.

The American expert on the financial crisis, Robert Aliber, repeatedly warned that the Icelandic Government and the Central Bank were even less capable than astrologers to steer our modern economy. They did not understand that the economic growth was built upon a pumping system, – loans were taken in order to pay off other loans – and now they do not know how to re-establish a balance, after the paper wealth has disappeared. Aliber added that it would have been unlikely that different leaders, perhaps arbitrarily selected out of the Phonebook, would have been able to create an economic Desaster as extensive as our Government did.

Iceland’s debt in per-capita terms is higher than the crippling reparations imposed upon Germany after WWI. In Icelandic Kronen, it is expected to be as much as the debt in the Italian budget. But Iceland has approximately 310 000 inhabitants, Italy 60 million.

But the Directors of the new private Banks regarded their activity as such good as a performance that they could cash in every month an equivalent sum to the Nobel Prize. Confronted to the large generosity they reserved to themselves, they angrily threatened to go abroad. We could have done well to them to wish them a good trip, like in the saga of Grettir the Strong, and to beg them just never to come back. But they claimed that abroad there was a strong demand for them, and they lied much about responsibility.

And this is now the gist of the matter, now, after the collapse: Why those that were claiming so much responsibility before, now take no responsibility? If somebody talks about the responsibility of the New Rich, it is only in juridical terms, as if something unlawful may ever be found; and as if the Nation should now be forced in rummaging through codes and contracts, in order to get reparation for the damage. This ignores the fact that responsibility lies also in social, economic, political and ethical terms.

Whilst all the wonderful prescriptions to say “sorry” come out of the crater that all that it’s left of the Banks, the New Rich say: there is nothing unnatural or unlawful in what has happened. How could it be otherwise, given the fact that the Market Economy had full control of the Parliament? Example: the Bank “Kaupthing” lent a British pubs chain around 107 billion Icelandic Krona just before collapsing – a sum approximately as high as the sum of the value of all Icelandic mortages in foreign currencies.

Let’s consider what has happened in the light of the Hávamál in the Edda, what can be considered as most ethically representative of our heritage. The question then becomes: Had anybody been able to domesticate Humans, using money to transform people into apes? That would have been the task for politicians, but it seems that of late they were tamed by the apes. How could that happen?

If the government were like our parents, the Children Protection Agency would have already intervened. Therefore it is just logical that the Government had to resign. Now there is a kind of interregnum until elections at the end of April.

Everything now depends on the active participation of the Icelanders and on their fighting spirit. The danger is that the discouse will still be nominated by the well-lubricated election machinery of the government parties, those that during our so-called pot-lid revolution have look like pitiful figures. The struggle that lies ahead is therefore also a struggle for establishing the right language. And for credibility. Currently the Elites pity themselves, angry with their executives, and the former Minister and current Head of the Central Bank David Oddsson is refusing to go, even if invited to do so by the Government. If only all the people currently unemployed would have proceeded according to Oddsson’s model, they would have simply said, upon receiving the contract termination notice, that they felt insulted and would continue to work no matter what.

Compassion, cohesion – during the booming years those were almost ridiculous notions. Competittion was seen as the natural way forward. Everybody ruminated about that. Commentators spoke under a spell, and the Market became part of television news as indispensable as the weather. Nobody dared to ask what the FTSE and Nasdaq exactly were, in order not to look a smaller player.

But if welfare programs were small during the times of prosperity, how will they become during the period of crisis that is now starting? Not everybody was rich during the fat years. We saw pensioners endure living in tiny rooms, and others become homeless. The lower wages were absurdly so, and medium-level employees had to use all their salaries to keep paying their debts and sustaining their families. It is obvious that it is not people with low wages that have benefited from the “recovery money”.

An American financier said once that the best moment to start buying things up, is during the time of riots, when blood flows through the streets. Is that what our Government is waiting to react? Signs of the beginning of that already exist. Indebted firms find themselves debt-free and back in the hands of their former owners. That goes on particularly smoothly. The same people occupuy the same positions, while each one of us has to contend with being in the red for 10 or perhaps 20 million Kronas. And like everything else, even the exact amount of our debts is a matter of contention, as they should be cumulated with household mortgages, money lost with the devaluation of the Krona, private bankruptcies and unemployment.

Perhaps Iceland is a kind of experiment for what will happen to the whole world. In any case, an at least excessive result of the situation, of the crisis, as much as it can be recognized, is that the debt obligations of the Icelandic banks are twelve times the gross national product. Someone told me that this mirrors the situation worldwide. But it is still premature to state what the crisis actually means and how it will evolve. Before the loss, nobody was right in evaluating their possessions. And now it is difficult to predict whether the “fat servant” will manage to rise, now, in the place where he was made to become a thrashed-up slave..

Einar Mar Gudmundsson is a writer living in Reykjavik.

AGW Climate Change Culture Data Dissent Global Warming Omniclimate Science Skepticism

Scientific Results As Data Interpretations

A must-read for anybody involved in disputes about “what Science says”, from today’s e-mail newsletter by The Scientist:

The Problem of Perception – by Steven Wiley

There is a common perception among young students that the surest path to resolving scientific controversies is to design a clever experiment, one that will definitively resolve conflicting hypotheses. However, I have found that most scientific controversies do not revolve around specific experimental data, but instead are disputes over data interpretation. Data interpretations depend on a scientist’s underlying assumptions and worldview. […]

we were working from a computational model of endocytosis that allowed us to try out different sets of assumptions and see how they would affect the system’s behavior. The other group felt that our computer model was a poor substitute for their own scientific intuition regarding what was happening. […]

Interestingly, our view was vindicated not because people came to accept our use of computational modeling, but because our hypothesis was more successful in predicting subsequent experimental results. Scientists don’t generally care about who is right or who is wrong in a dispute. They want a conclusion that can help predict their own experimental outcomes. Science is built brick by brick from ideas and concepts that can lead to the next successful series of experiments and concepts. If an idea doesn’t support the next brick, it is discarded. It’s natural selection in science.

Scientific disputes seem inevitable in any career, but mine gave me a keen appreciation of the need for caution in accepting simple interpretations of the behavior of complex systems. In science, we do not gather facts. We make observations. Our interpretation of observations is only as good as our assumptions and conceptual frameworks. […]

The above explains how AGW could become such a consensual paradigm for an intellighentsia that has lost all hopes. It is also relevant to the discussion about the use of computer models and the extreme importance of their predicting powers. And finally it states loud and clear how pointless it is to pretend that there is nothing subjective in Science, and especially in the study of complex systems.

Italia Italiano Politica

Continua La Polemica Sul DDL 1360

Ricevo e rimando. Un giorno di questi diro’ la mia:

I comitati ANPI di Massa Carrara, La Spezia, Lunigiana e Versilia, il Comitato manifestazione contro d.d.l. 1360, Archivi della Resistenza – Circolo Edoardo Bassignani, Arci Carrara-Lunigiana, Associazione Tina Modotti e il Comitato Sentieri della Resistenza hanno organizzato una manifestazione antifascista “La Memoria è viva. La storia non si cancella”, che si terrà a Villafranca in Lunigiana sabato 14 Marzo.

Questa manifestazione nasce dall’esigenza di far sentire la nostra voce sul territorio della Lunigiana contro la proposta di legge n. 1360 che attraverso l’ennesimo atto revisionista vuole proporre l’equiparazione tra partigiani e repubblichini. Il primo firmatario di questa ignobile legge è l’ On. Lucio Barani, nonché Sindaco di Villafranca in Lunigiana. E stupisce il fatto che a farsi portavoce sia proprio un esponente politico proveniente da un territorio simbolo della resistenza italiana, sia per l’alto numero dei giovani che vi parteciparono con il saldo sostegno della popolazione, sia per le numerose vittime civili.

Basterà ricordare la tragica scia di sangue dell’estate del 1944 con le stragi dei civili inermi (le Fosse del Frigido, Sant’Anna di Stazzema, Bardine di San Terenzo, Vinca, Bergiola Foscalina) rispetto alla quali si è ormai accertata la responsabilità indiretta, quando non la collaborazione attiva, di esponenti fascisti, di quegli stessi «bravi ragazzi» che oggi – come non accade in nessuno stato europeo – si vorrebbero glorificare.

Che cosa propone il d.d.l. 1360?

Con tale disegno di legge, la maggioranza parlamentare pretende di equiparare partigiani, militari e deportati ai repubblichini di Salò conferendo a loro un istituendo “Ordine del Tricolore”. La relazione che accompagna il disegno di legge sostiene a chiare lettere la «pari dignità di una partecipazione al conflitto di molti combattenti, giovani e meno giovani, cresciuti nella temperie culturale guerriera e imperiale del ventennio, che ritennero onorevole la scelta a difesa del regime ferito e languente». Analoga operazione fu già tentata dalla destra nelle precedenti legislature, ma venne respinta, grazie anche ad una raccolta di firme indetta dall’ANPI.

Ora si tenta un gravissimo colpo di mano, volendo far passare sotto un “innocuo” riconoscimento pensionistico (che strano! proprio in un’epoca di malaugurata riduzione del Welfare!) l’idea di un’equidistanza tra chi ha combattuto per liberare il nostro paese dal giogo nazifascista e i fascisti stessi.

Infatti il documento prosegue inequivocabilmente: «Solo partendo da considerazioni contingenti e realistiche è finalmente possibile quella rimozione collettiva della memoria ingrata di uno scontro che fu militare e ideale, oramai lontano, eredità amara di un passato doloroso, consegnato per sempre alla storia patria». In poche parole si vorrebbe avanzare, attraverso la Proposta di legge 1360, una sostanziale parificazione tra i partigiani che hanno combattuto per la libertà a fianco del popolo italiano e i fascisti prezzolati della Repubblica di Salò, che invece combatterono alleati all’orrore nazista e furono i responsabili delle tante stragi che hanno colpito il nostro territorio. Contro tutto questo l’ANPI e i giovani antifascisti intendono opporsi.

Per saperne di più sul d.d.l. 1360 e sulle iniziative di contrasto messe in campo dalle varie sezioni ANPI, vai sul sito dell’ANPI nazionale.

Il programma della manifestazione

Alle ore 9.00, concentramento presso la Piazza della Stazione di Villafranca in Lunigiana; da qui partirà un corteo che arriverà in Piazza Negrari dove si svolgerà l’incontro-dibattito presieduto dalla partigiana Laura Seghettini (ANPI Pontremoli). Interverranno Raimondo Ricci (ANPI Nazionale); Lidia Menapace (Rifondazione Comunista); Andrea Orlando (Partito Democratico); Fabio Evangelisti (Italia dei Valori). In caso di pioggia l’incontro-dibattito si svolgerà presso il Cinema Teatro Città di Villafranca. Al termine del dibattito i partecipanti si dirigeranno verso la Selva di Filetto dove è previsto un ritrovo e dove si potrà pranzare al sacco.

Alle ore 15.00 partirà la Camminata Resistente per arrivare nel Borgo di Mocrone dove nel dicembre 2008 il sindaco Lucio Barani ha inaugurato, all’insaputa dei paesani, una targa dedicata a Benito Mussolini. Alle 16.00 nella Piazza A. Banedicenti ci sarà l’intervento teatrale “O da una parte o dall’altra” a cura di Blanca Teatro e un momento musicale curato da Apuamater Cyberfolk e Mattia Ringozzi.

Partecipazione e adesioni

Confidiamo in una vostra ampia partecipazione (anche sotto forma di adesione), perché dobbiamo dimostrare che l’antifascismo e i valori su cui si basa la nostra Costituzione rimangono ancora la bussola del nostro vivere civile, un irrinunciabile patrimonio morale e politico che i sinceri democratici non sono disposti a mettere in soffitta, né adesso né mai. Sabato 14 marzo, vogliamo dare un forte segnale alla maggioranza che ci governa ma anche a chi è ormai assuefatto ai continui attacchi alla legalità costituzionale e ad uno smantellamento lento e inesorabile di quei principi che sembravano fino a poco tempo fa inviolabili (lavoro, diritto alla salute, laicità, in una parola: la democrazia). Sarà un segnale chiaro e inequivocabile: in questa battaglia, i giovani antifascisti non lasceranno solo i partigiani e le partigiane; scendere in piazza servirà quindi a manifestare tutto il nostro dissenso contro una legge che offende la memoria dei combattenti per la libertà e dei tanti civili uccisi dall’orrore nazifascista. Ma servirà anche a ribadire, ancora una volta, che la difesa di quel patrimonio di memorie non è semplicemente una questione da dibattito storiografico o il doveroso omaggio alla generazione di chi ha combattuto nella Resistenza; a ben vedere è un qualcosa che non riguarda tanto il passato ma investe il senso più profondo del nostro avvenire, quella speranza, non ancora sopita, di una società più giusta. Noi non vogliamo dimenticare la storia ma non vogliamo nemmeno “smemorarci del futuro”, ovvero la possibilità di continuare a pensare ad un mondo diverso e migliore di quello in cui viviamo. Questa è la più grande eredità che i partigiani ci lasceranno e noi la scaglieremo contro il futuro perché la Memoria è viva e la storia non si cancella!

Hanno aderito: FIAP (Federazione Italiana delle Associazioni Partigiane), APC (Ass. Partigiani Cattolici); ASS: Mutilati e Invalidi di guerra; Comitato delle Vittime di San Terenzo e Vinca; Ass. Vittime e Caduti in guerra; Ass. Vittime e Caduti Civili

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