Geologically, it’s the youngest country on Earth: its newest volcanic island erupted from the ocean in the mid-1960s. It’s a land filled with raging waterfalls and bubbling roadside hot springs, which together create a nation powered almost solely by renewable energy. The Althingi, founded in 930, is the oldest national parliament in the world; and its wonderfully named poet and political leader, Snorri Sturluson, was murdered in 1241 by the King of Norway to make way for Iceland’s annexation.
A normally conservative people, with the world’s highest literacy rate, Icelanders fell hard for privatization in the early 1990s. They went on a debt-fueled spending spree, as their per capita wealth exploded and the country’s three banks became casinos for foreign money. In 2008 the banks defaulted and the economy collapsed. Icelanders kicked out their government, let the banks fail, indicted the bankers and handed out mortgage relief. It worked. The country recovered, presumably sobered.
Yesterday, Iceland’s prime minister resigned, the first victim of the Panama Papers – and certainly not the last.
The just-released numbers are staggering: 214,000 offshore accounts; 14,000 clients; over 200 countries and territories (not bad, as there are only 196 countries in the world); “leaders” from every walk of life; 11.5 million documents; 2.6 terabytes of data. Putin’s favorite cellist is worth $100 million, and FIFA is back in the news.
The 1% – or 0.1% – is not an American exception but a worldwide disgrace, uncovered by the kind of investigative journalism that has become an endangered species.
I think Bernie’s on to something.