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Opinion
The Dark Twins

The Dark Twins

Published July 17, 2009

It is always healthy for a society to go through a period of introspection and self-doubt, whatever the cause may be. The Germans did after World War Two, and decided to become a nation of pacifist nature lovers. The Americans did after Vietnam and Watergate and made some of the best movies known to man, until Reagan came along and dulled everyone again to the roaring chants of “USA, USA.” It’s their turn again now. The South Africans had their Truth and Reconciliation committee, to find out what really happened during apartheid. The Russians never quite did question themselves systematically after the collapse of the USSR, which is why their political life remains decidedly unhealthy to this day.
Iceland’s contribution to recent world history might not have quite the same body count, but it remains disastrous. This is our moment of doubt and pain. Future generations of Icelanders will probably never quite understand how almost the entire nation marched so eagerly off an arctic cliff. The usual suspects – the dark twins, Greed and Stupidity – are there to be found. But they don’t quite answer the question.
Iceland’s Ancien Regime
The problem in dealing with historical epochs is: How far do you go back to find the original cause of later effect, in this case an original sin of osrts. The one counter-argument one was always met with when criticizing the Boom was this: “So, do you want to go back to the old system?” No one did.
In the old system, party affiliation was everything. If you wanted to open up a business, get a loan, or even get a job, you had to belong to the right party. The Independence Party took care of theirs, so did the Progressives and to a lesser extent the Social Democrats. If you were a Socialist, you were pretty much screwed. Small wonder then that most people opted for the largest party, the one in the best position to dispense favours, however detrimental this might be to society as a whole.
Sure, Icelanders had equal rights to education. But once you got out of school and started paying back your loans, your education didn’t really matter. You had to know someone. In a small country, this usually meant a close relative. Iceland was only egalitarian on the outside.
Mare’s piss and gold risotto
As in most postcolonial societies, Icelanders in a position of power saw this as a means to dispense patronage to friends and relatives.
In 1994, Örnólfur Árnason wrote Bankabókin (The Bank Book), which tells of a familiar scenario: a group of Icelandic bankers sit around at London’s most exclusive gentleman’s club. One of them is spotted drinking the second most expensive champagne. “Why are you drinking that mare’s piss?” asks his colleague, holding a glass of the better type while buying all the working girls a round. The first banker, of course, upgrades.
If the disease won’t kill you, the cure will…
All this was expensed to the Icelandic public. One of the main rationales for privatisation was that privately owned banks would not be as wasteful of funds and positions would no longer be filled according to party lines. We all know how that went. The banks were given over to a handful of individuals, who moved from mare’s piss to gold drizzled risotto. Yet again, the public foots the bill.
As heroin was to morphine, privatisation turned out to be more deadly cure than the original disease. We would do best to be rid of both. It seems that Icelanders abroad always have to throw money in every direction to prove that they are no worse than the big city folk. If we really want to win their respect, we will have to change our habits.   



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Opinion
Reykjavík Forces Its Music Schools Into Bankruptcy

Reykjavík Forces Its Music Schools Into Bankruptcy

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As you may have heard, Icelandic music teachers recently ended a five-week long strike. The music teachers’ strike was caused by a wage dispute. It was resolved when Icelandic authorities promised music teachers wages equal to those enjoyed by other teachers in Iceland. Now that these demands have been met—even if only to certain degree—we music teachers ought to be able to continue our work, educating Iceland’s future crop of musicians. But, are we? Not necessarily. For instance, my school, Söngskóli Sigurðar Demetz (“The Vocal Academy of Sigurður Demetz”), can now prepare students for the upcoming Christmas concerts. However, if

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Opinion
Good Ol’ Traditions

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One of last week’s loudest debates has to do with next year’s State Treasury budget, which Alþingi has been debating, as tradition has it, these last days before Christmas. Among the proposed changes in taxation is the lowering of VAT on electric appliances, and a corresponding raised VAT on food products. The What Since the proposal was first introduced, these two particular changes, seen as complimentary, have been disputed. The opposition’s reasoning seems obvious: food is an unavoidable expense, and expensive food will hit hardest those with already meager income. Electric appliances, however, remain a largely optional expense, and higher

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Opinion
Spotify: The Market Sets The Price

Spotify: The Market Sets The Price

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Recently, the independent news site Nútíminn, leader among independent news sites named Nútíminn, ran an Op-Ed by a terribly uninformed man who apparently believes he can run a record company without, it seems, having any sort of a business degree. In his screed, he insists that Supply and Demand break up, because their age old relationship no longer suits his specific needs. Furthermore, he seems to believe that record sales and online streaming are musicians’ sole source of revenue, and that free market capitalism should no longer require businesses to either adapt or perish. Should you be reading this, Haraldur Leví

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Opinion
Iceland’s Economy Shrinks In Third Quarter

Iceland’s Economy Shrinks In Third Quarter

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After years of growing at a respectable rate, the Icelandic economy seems to have stalled. According to the most recent measurements of Statistics Iceland the Icelandic, published on December 5, the Icelandic economy barely registered any growth over the first nine months of the year, and actually shrunk in the third quarter. These results stand in stark contrast to the extremely rosy projections of a couple of weeks ago, which promised a growth rate of 2.7% over the year. Analysts at the large banks were similarly projecting growth around 3% for the year. Now it seems more likely we will

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Opinion
Be A Peaceful Infant Smiling In The Manger

Be A Peaceful Infant Smiling In The Manger

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Feast of lights and love, the family days of Christmas; “what to dine and how to dress”— oh, don’t we all just thrill up on the quirky-looking sweaters and find it all so amusing? And don’t we, just this season, take the necessity of “having a good time” all too seriously concerning all the consumerism attached, as it is almost obligatory to accept February’s Visa bill without any grudge, the late-Christmas-hangover? At least, most of the time “doin’ what ya wanna cuz it’s Xmas” has been, in my context, stepping just a little bit over the line; knowing how much

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Opinion
The Nature Pass: The Stupidest Tax In History

The Nature Pass: The Stupidest Tax In History

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According to official estimates, the number of foreign tourists in Iceland will top the one million mark for the first time in history by the end of the year. Which means it will have more than tripled over the course of last decade: in 2003, some 300,000 foreigners visited Iceland. Trampling hordes But while the growing number of foreign visitors has helped fuel economic growth, the hordes of visitors pose problems of their own. Virtually every popular tourist destination in Iceland is under serious stress, as irreparable damage is being done by trampling tourists. The problem is that neither the Icelandic

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