From Iceland — Happy Syriza, Greece!

Happy Syriza, Greece!

Published January 26, 2015

Happy Davíð II, Iceland! Debates on Monday #20

Haukur Már Helgason
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Happy Davíð II, Iceland! Debates on Monday #20

Syriza won! Meanwhile, in Iceland, nothing worth mentioning seems currently up for debates. If debates don’t exist, we have to invent them.

The Debates on Monday

Morgunblaðið and some other media seem to be seriously concerned about the existence of single parents, as a social hazard. I don’t believe anyone responsible for such writing is actually, him or herself, seriously concerned. Since former Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson became the paper’s editor-in-chief, making the once somewhat respectable medium into the most expensive, and most self-defensive, blog in Europe, its readership has steadily diminished. According to recent polls, the paper now has fewer readers than Bændablaðið – “The Farmers’ Magazine”. Really. Morgunblaðið is as unpopular as capitalism and injustice. What to do then? I mean, if you embody capitalism, injustice and Morgunblaðið? The same as always: find a scapegoat. When someone confronts you with a choice between, for example, blaming foreigners or single parents for the world’s woes, say talk to the beard and show them this:

Syriza won! Meanwhile, back in Iceland, the other not-yet-existing debate is the one about the age of retirement. As reported, back in 2012, the University of Iceland’s Economics Institute explained to authorities that if they intended to manually transfer money from the State treasury to real estate owners, they would need to compensate the losses that pension funds will suffer. The Economics Institute proposed raising retirement age, step by step, from the current 67 years, to, eventually, 70 years, to decrease the funds’ obligations.

Famously, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s government is now in the middle of the mega-transfer, marketed as “The Correction”: billions upon billions will be “paid back”, from public funds, to those Icelandic citizens whose real estate is worth less than it might have been in a different sort of economy. Whereas most historians refrain from writing “alternative histories”, seen as less than scientific, populist politicians have no such standard to adhere to. Last week, a few months into the implementation of The Correction, a committee led by Independence Party veteran Pétur Blöndal, assigned with proposing changes to the country’s welfare system, introduced its upcoming proposals. One of these is —hold your breath— gradually raising the age of retirement from 67 to 70 years.

Syriza won! 23 percent of Iceland’s wealth belongs to 1 percent of the population. This was recently revealed. 73 percent of the country’s wealth belongs to the top 10 percent. Every single member of Alþingi on behalf of the traditional political parties, left and right, belongs to those ten percent. Various members on behalf of the Independence Party and the Progressive Party comfortably belong to the top 1 percent. In other words: the upper layers of Icelandic society are outrageously over-represented in both parliament and government.

To summarize the above: members of the upper classes now intend to keep the country’s working population toiling a few meters closer toward their graves, to make up for the money which has already been handed out, on our behalf, to those who, by 2014, already owned real estate. Mostly, that is, to those at least mildly better off.

Neither Pétur nor other members of his committee have said a word about this reason behind the proposed changes. Surely they will Correct that as soon as possible. Pétur will probably commend his next speech at Alþingi on these words: “I am a devote participant in a political system which has become fully and transparently subservient to the interests of this country’s privileged classes. As such, I am proud to speak for this proposal, an important step towards making sure that we will keep gaining, in terms of power and money, through other people’s toil. In other words, I believe this to be an important step towards more comfort for those of us who feel entitled to it.”

Debates on Monday

Syriza won! Among those at the forefront of the struggle were cleaners, fired from the Greek ministry of finance sixteen months ago. Does that sound familiar? Now is the time to celebrate with Greece and the rest of Europe, celebrate new potentials. Then ponder what to make of them. Then realise.

Happy Syriza, Greece!

Happy Sigmundur Davíð, Iceland!

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