A year or so ago, I did a post wondering what had happened to the anti-globalisation movement. Well, something looking very like it now certainly seems to be reappearing in Iceland at least. Here’s Roger Boyes in the Times on Wednesday last week:
Icelanders all but stormed their Parliament last night. It was the first session of the chamber after what might appear to be an unusually long Christmas break. Ordinary islanders were determined to vent their fury at the way that the political class had allowed the country to slip towards bankruptcy. The building was splattered with paint and yoghurt, the crowd yelled and banged pans, fired rockets at the windows and lit a bonfire in front of the main door. Riot police moved in.
Eirikur Bergmann thinks this amounts to “at the very least, a revolution in political activism”. And both writers are having a grand old time identifying the baddie. Thus Boyes:
Governments have so far managed to deflect attention from their role in the crash, their slipshod monitoring, by declaring themselves to be indispensible to the solution. This may save the skins of politicians in wealthier countries who can credibly and expensively try to prop up banks and sickly industries. But it does not work in countries that are heavily indebted, with bloated and exposed financial sectors. There, the irate crowds are already beginning to demand: why hasn’t a single politician resigned? What has happened to ministerial responsibility? Who will investigate government failure?
Bergmann casts the blame a bit wider, but not by much:
The fault is clearly shared between the business elite and the government, which failed to regulate the newly privatised financial sector, allowing a few incompetent and egotistical business tycoons to gamble with the nation’s fortune. And yet neither the government nor the bankers – who, by the way, seem to have disappeared into the cold thin air – see anything wrong with their own behaviour. The governor of the central bank blames the risk-seeking bankers, the bankers blame the government and the prime minister attributes the whole crisis to the international credit crunch. This lack of any sense of responsibility has angered the Icelandic public to the extent that they have turned to the streets in greater numbers than ever before.
All well and good – but what about the role of the Icelandic public themselves in creating their predicament? After all, as the WSJ notes,
Until very recently, the 21st century had smiled on Iceland. Last year, it boasted the highest standard of living of any country, according to the United Nations — outranking the U.S., for all its McMansions and drive-through coffee shops, and Sweden with its government-paid parental leave and other generous social benefits. High interest rates set by the central bank kept foreign money flowing onto the island, strengthening the krona and making imported goods easily affordable. Iceland’s ports unloaded ships full of swank Scandinavian furniture, building materials for new houses and sport-utility vehicles. Imports were boundless: Recently, cape gooseberries were a common adornment on the plates of Reykjavik’s chic restaurants.
Fact is, the causes of the credit crunch extend a long way beyond governments and banks, culpable though those two sets of actors are (c.f. James Meek). Ed Mayo, who runs the National Consumer Council here in the UK, has floated the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the credit crunch. It might be less fun than throwing yoghurt, but it would probably be a lot more use…