From Iceland — Apologies and Justice

Apologies and Justice

Published May 14, 2010

Now that the “Black Report” has finally been issued—and criminal, tax, and regulatory investigations appear to finally be nearing fruition—our beloved young plutocrats have suddenly realised how sorry they are for the kreppa. Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson “cannot help but blame [himself]” for not recognising “the warning signs that were piling up.” Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson tells us that he “cannot describe with words how I feel because of the mistakes I have made and their consequences.”
I find it very difficult to take these missives seriously.
On the one hand, the apologies are not very heartfelt; they look as if their authors merely filled in the blanks from standard forms taken from a book of public apologies.
I don’t even see how Björgólfur Thor’s letter even qualifies as an apology, since he doesn’t accept responsibility for any particular action or omission. He appears to be saying that he’s sorry the whole damn economy was screwed up and fell apart when push came to shove.
At least Jón Ásgeir acknowledges that he made some mistakes (though, of course, he points out, so did everyone else).
I can’t help it if I see these letters as the beginning of a Tiger Woods-type of publicity campaign to protect their respective financial empires, rather than to seek personal redemption.
If these two—who were at the middle of every deal of consequence—were sincere in their remorse, why has it taken them so long to go public with it? Why haven’t they given us the particulars of every questionable transaction in which they participated? Why have they continued to believe that their presence on boards of directors is necessary? Why did they flee the country?
I believe in second chances. I’d love to see Iceland move beyond the finger pointing that has inundated the media since October 2008. I think that vendettas can damage the person seeking justice as much as the person against whom justice is sought.
Nevertheless, I don’t see how we can rebuild a successful society without justice, and justice in this case will necessarily entail taking the levers of financial and political power away from those who proved themselves unworthy to operate them. Both Björgólfur Thor and Jón Ásgeir ascribe the kreppa to easy access to capital and to poor oversight, but this is just an attempt to spread the blame to uncontrollable forces. “The Black Report” is replete with instances in which these two and their cronies aggressively sought to increase their reach through obviously improper—if not illegal—means.
But even if we buy their assertions that they always had the nation’s best interests at heart, that the kreppa is a result of simple negligence, we should still bar them from making any decisions in the future that could impact more than their immediate families.
As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben famously told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Björgólfur Thor, Jón Ásgeir, and the rest did obtain great power, but they failed to exercise it responsibly.
The stakes are too high to give them a second chance.

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