Icelandic Wisdom: Bankrupt Banks and WikiLeaks

In this video interview, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the president of Iceland, explains how Iceland saved their economy by doing exactly the opposite of what dominant Western economic policy would suggest.  They did not bail out their banks, they refused to impose austerity, and they re-wrote their constitution since they recognized that an economic problem is necessarily a social and political problem.  Grimsson explains, “We didn’t follow the prevailing economic orthodoxy of the last 30 years.”  In letting the banks go bankrupt, bankers were released to use their different skill sets to more productive ends, and Iceland’s economy has returned to growth with a low level of unemployment.

On top of this, Iceland’s interior minister, Ogmundur Jonasson, has been applauded for telling his country not to co-operate with FBI agents investigating WikiLeaks.  WikiLeaks is an online non-profit organization, started in Iceland in 2006 by Sunshine Press, that shares secret information, news leaks, and classified media  with the public.  Information is given by anonymous sources, and the organization has published a great deal of important and harrowing information about the Iraq Wars and prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, to name but a few examples.  The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating WikiLeaks, as it clearly reflects poorly on their department, but Iceland decided to kick the FBI out in August, 2011, when they arrived unannounced to investigate and asked for cooperation from Iceland’s authorities.

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Underlying both of these progressive actions is a very positive, socially-minded ideology that privileges the concerns of the many over the concerns of an elite few.  Economic concerns are first and foremost social and political issues, and require amelioration from below, not through some impossible ‘trickle down of wealth’ or ‘self-regulating’ market system.  As well, the public not only has the right to know what governments are doing in their name, but has the right to protest actions that are unacceptable at the level of basic human rights.  We should take the time to appreciate this incredible Icelandic wisdom, and think long and hard about how we can begin electing leaders who will apply it here.

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