The world continues to be impressed—nay, amazed—at Iceland’s return to some kind of semblance of normality. Employment is up, GDP is up, and according to TravelDailyNews.com, “For January—September, total tourism figures are up 17.2% since last year.”
Tourism is, in fact, so damn good that Icelandic MP Þór Saari told the Icelandic radio show Reykjavík Síðdegis that he felt Iceland could not physically handle this many visitors. He said he was concerned about potential damage to the country’s pristine nature spots. In the next few years, Iceland is expected to receive over a million tourists in one season—more than three times the country’s entire population.
Perhaps someone should consider replacing Bónus’ plastic bags with paper ones.
Recently, it seems, Icelanders have had even more to write home about. For the fourth year in a row, Iceland has been listed in the Word Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report as the nation with the highest level of gender equality in the world. And, as Robert Lavine pointed out in The Atlantic Monthly this month, “Icelanders are among the happiest people in the world—despite their 2008 financial crisis, volcanic eruptions, and the predominant winter darkness.” Apparently, based on his findings, Lavine seems to equate this incredible happiness to Icelanders’ high intake of omega-3-rich fish and fish oil.
Why then aren’t we all jumping with wild, unconstrained, fishy glee? Why worry about pension funds, the cost of imported goods, about not being able to go on holiday in Spain, when we live in the happiest, most egalitarian, possibly most democratic nation in the world.
Talking about democracy and praising Iceland’s recent referendum on the world’s first “crowd-sourced” constitution, Dave Maki at Opensource.com, says, Iceland “has taken a bold and very public approach. Understanding that the problems of the present are the results from the past, they are rewriting their constitution by crowd-sourcing ideas and suggestions via the internet.” Equating this open-door initiative with the constitutional aspirations of America’s founding fathers, he proposes wildly that should Benjamin Franklin be alive today, “perhaps there would be a deeper emphasis on government checks and balances or perhaps a sharper focus on social reforms.”
I’m still smiling, but is there a potential glitch in the offing?
Writing in ‘The Moral Liberal,’ author Max Borders is not as convinced that what he calls “hive democracy” is the solution to open government. Yes, he says, “We can sense an evolution happening, but the real pro-social changes are still missing. Digitally decentralising the means of centralising authority is not likely to help countries avert large-scale catastrophes, much less avoid illiberal policies.”
David Meyer at gigaom.com concurs that this form of “crowd-sourced” legislation will never work on a larger scale (certainly not in the multicultural/multilingual EU): “And what happens when you have a mass-participatory system like this that few people are really paying attention to? You get a golden opportunity for lobbyists to game the system.”
A word for the wise, perhaps?
Besides, as the International Herald Tribune duly notes, “the [referendum] vote is not binding on Iceland’s Parliament, the Alþingi.” Oh well, if things go awry, I suppose we can always get our newly-re-elected president to step in again to uphold our bliss and right to free speech.
And since the economy and the happiness and the general level of female to male satisfaction are supposedly soaring, should we not assume we’re on the right track?
As I’ve mentioned in the last months, the international media and the Icelandic government in power seem to think so. Blogging for The Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard congratulates Iceland on its economic miracle. “Iceland’s economy is erupting once more,” he puffs.
Yet Iceland’s new Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Katrín Júlíusdóttir is not quite as optimistic. Iceland’s main problem—the same problem that has created this current boom in tourism—is its currency crisis. Katrín is as firmly convinced, as the great majority of Icelanders are not, that the only way to bring Iceland out of its currency isolation is to join the EU and adopt the euro. “Our currency is extremely volatile and sensitive towards external factors,” she tells Bloomberg.
Then surely what Paul Krauth writes in Money Morning should have us carefully considering our happiness coefficient. Globally speaking (and let’s be honest, without the fall of Lehmann Bothers and Bear Sterns, the Icelandic banks’ 2008 loans would most probably not have been recalled), he says, “there’s still plenty to worry about—especially in the sordid world of finance.” Paul’s glum prophecies go on: “In fact, the world’s third biggest money manager said 71% of investors worldwide are afraid the next Lehman could strike within the next twelve months.”
Icelanders, on the other hand, can all keep smiling. He says: “When the next financial shock comes, chances are good that they’ll [Icelanders] hold up better than most.”
Stay happy then and for heaven’s sake, stay egalitarian. Oh, and don’t forget to take your omega-3-fish-oil pills!