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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Iceland's Economic Crisis

Barry B from Debt Prison asked in Common FSK topics:

have you paid attention to the situation in iceland with the collapse of their economy?

I was vaguely aware of it, but haven't been following the details.

I found this blog about Iceland's problems, but I wasn't very impressed by the content. The best summary I could find via Google was Wikipedia's version. (I feel dirty linking to Wikipedia.)

Here's the short summary of the problem.

In the US, banks had dollar-denominated assets and dollar-denominated liabilities. During a recession/depression, the value of bank assets decreases due to the Compound Interest Paradox. The Federal government and Federal Reserve are the issuer for dollars. They merely printed enough new dollars to bail out the banks.

In Iceland, the banks had Euro-denominated assets and Euro-denominated liabilities. As in the rest of the world, asset prices crashed. However, Iceland's government does not have the power to issue Euros. The "print new money to bail out banks" trick couldn't be pulled off.

Subprime mortgage bonds weren't just bought in the USA. They were bought by other countries, eager to invest their dollar surplus. When the market for these bonds imploded, it affected other countries in addition to the USA. In this manner, economic problems in the USA were exported to other countries.

Other countries are eager to keep a stable exchange rate with the US dollar, because they like exporting to the USA. When the US dollar starts inflating, other countries must inflate in lockstep to keep a stable exchange rate. In this manner, the USA exports its inflation to other countries. Other countries are inflating their own fiat money, with the profits going to US financial industry insiders.

The USA (and to some extent the EU now) have a special perk that no other country gets. They get to issue loans in their own money. This means that, technically, they can never be bankrupted as they merely print new money to pay off their debts. Other countries have a problem where their international debts are Euro-denominated or dollar-denominated. During a global recession/depression, they can't pull off the "print new money to bail out banks" trick like the US Federal government and Federal Reserve.

There were other problems cited in the article.

Like in the USA, banks in Iceland lobbied for looser regulations and loaded up on leverage. Unlike the USA, banks in Iceland could not lobby Iceland to print new money to bail them out, because their debts were Euro-denominated.

During boom times, Iceland's banks kept refinancing their Euro-denominated loans for bigger and bigger amounts. Inflation was working in their favor. They were making huge profits. Now, we are in the recession/depression phase of the business cycle. Iceland's banks are no longer able to refinance their debt. They have gone from "technically insolvent" to "actually insolvent".

Most large banks are technically insolvent at any given time. "Level 3 accounting" encourages large banks to load up on assets that they don't have to "mark-to-market". Banks use huge leverage ratios, profiting from inflation over time. During a recession/depression, banks and businesses that aren't "too big to fail" go bankrupt, and the rest qualify for a State bailout.

Iceland may be eligible to join the EU. Politicians in Iceland said "If we join the EU, we're ceding our sovereignty."

Iceland tried to peg its fiat currency at 131 krona per Euro. When a government tries to keep a currency peg in contravention of market forces, professional currency traders say "Woohoo!! Free money!!" The wealth Iceland's government squandered on the currency peg mostly wound up in the pockets of currency speculators.

Iceland's government also froze foreign currency exchanges and foreign accounts. This exacerbates the problem. Why would someone import/export from Iceland, if you aren't going to be able to convert your profits to local money?

Without such restrictions, if the krona is devalued relative to the Euro, then the incentive is for foreign investors to buy assets in Iceland, limiting the disparity. By placing currency trading restrictions, Iceland exacerbated the problem.

Iceland is inflating its own money to bail out bankers and insiders. The average person in Iceland is losing his savings to inflation.

Also, most of the liabilities of Iceland's banks are owned by insiders. Iceland's government didn't say "Let the banks go bankrupt! We'll print new money to redeem small individual depositors, but institutional and large investors are SOL. We'll capitalize new banks instead of bailing out the failing ones." That criticism applies to the USA as well.

Of course, the correct solution "Use gold as money!" is never mentioned by policymakers. State violence and State regulation demands people use the local fiat money. Substitutes are outlawed.

It's the usual "Problem! Reaction! Solution!" paradigm. The State causes a problem. People say "OMFG!! This is awful!" The solution is always more power for the State. The State regulations that caused the problem in the first place are never named.

The blame for all financial crises boils down to:
  1. Limited liability incorporation is evil. Limited liability incorporation gives bank management a free put option to declare bankruptcy and cheat creditors and depositors. Limited liability incorporation encourages aggressive/dishonest accounting by a nearly insolvent bank.
  2. Negative real interest rates are evil. Negative real interest rates provide subsidies to insiders at the expense of productive workers. Only insiders may borrow at the cheapest interest rate. They get first dibs on newly printed money.
  3. Regulation of banking and money is evil. People are not allowed to boycott the State-issued fiat money and use real money instead. (Gold and silver and other metal coins are real money.) Further, regulation encourages consolidation of the banking industry.
  4. "Too big to fail" is an evil concept. Instead of bailing out failing banks, new banks could be funded instead. If the State wants to protect small individual depositors, then new money should be printed to reimburse them for their loss. (In a true free market, accounting associations would guarantee bank deposits. The members of the accounting association would be assuming personal liability for any loss.) Large investors and institutional investors *SHOULD* lose when their bank goes bankrupt. That's the reason you have credit ratings. "Too big to fail" merely bails out insiders at the expense of the average person. "Too big to fail" encourages dishonest behavior, and it makes "small enough to fail" businesses not viable. Why should I run a small business if my competitor is "too big to fail"?
The correct solution to all banking crises is "There should be no State regulation of money at all!", which is a special case of "Who needs a government anyway?" That solution is never publicly discussed in a mainstream media source. In practice, a repeal of all laws forbidding gold and silver to be used as money would be functionally equivalent of returning to a gold standard. Given the free choice, no rational person would use paper money over real money. A paper monetary system *ALWAYS* fails, because the people who print the paper can never resist the temptation to print more money and give it to themselves.

Also, the gold standard is banned internationally via treaties. As condition for WTO and IMF membership, countries are banned from using a gold standard. Politically connected insiders love joining the WTO and IMF, because some of the money from the loans is spent on kickbacks for the politicians' backers. During the inevitable recession/depression, the international debt is cited as an excuse for reducing the living standard of the average person. Income taxes and the inflation tax are raised to pay the illegitimate foreign debt.

Another problem with financial crises in smaller countries is "Individuals are responsible for the debts of politically connected insiders!" Individuals always pay the cost of State bailouts in the form of money supply inflation and taxes. People lose their saving to inflation, either gradually or all at once.

Let me know if there's anything else you want me to write about. "Small country gets ruined by financial crisis and foreign debt!" is not news to me. The international monetary system is set up that way on purpose! I haven't written about Iceland's economic crisis, because my reaction is "I've heard that story before. It's not interesting." Plus, none of the news sources and blogs I follow mention Iceland much.


robert30062 said...

Great post FSK. You must be feeling better because you seem sharp right now. That's good. One point I always try to make when talking about how the current international monetary system is run by basically the same people, i.e Rockefellers, Rothschilds, etc. is an example of perpective. When people say, "Oh that is just crazy conspiracy theory! THE WHOLE WORLD can't be in on it!", I just make an analogy based on something my brother told me a few years ago. He is an airline pilot and told me that the entire western hemisphere is today even smaller to him than the few miles of woods behind our backyard growing up as kids. Because distance is relative to the capacity of speed to travel and for the rich and powerful insiders of the global economy, who can be around the world on their jets in a few hours, one can see how small in fact the world might seem to them. On another note, I don't know if you read any Noam Chomsky or Chris Floyd but you might want to check their web sites out. You wrote a small article about the current Israeli invasion of Gaza and while your broader insight of the political insiders was correct, there are specific facts and atrocities commited the IDF that are forbidden in the mainstream media.

fritz said...

I wonder what kind of pressure the iceland government had on it..That made them sell out..Its a small island,If I were in government and sold out the people.I wouldn't have to many places to hide..

And one other thing.The fed doesn't have to print money to make it.It can just log in and create digital currency. Its much faster,,and takes less ink..


Anonymous said...


Thanks for looking into this deal. I've been too busy lately to read as much as I'd like. So I'm just gonna read your blog post on this subject to satisfy my curiousity.

It seems that we keep coming back to gold. Perhaps we could convince our politicians to get rid of legal tender laws... do you think that would help? LOL if only it was that easy huh. People always talk about slavery as though it's a thing of the past ya know.

Anonymous said...

speaking of that, the best book i know of on israel/palestine is noam chomsky's "the fateful triangle". it's 500+ pages, and there's an updated edition, but i read the original one (1983?). it's a good analysis of his media theories, mainly of self-censorship being more powerful than state control. it was free at the university library in college, so i read it.

fritz said...

Fsk,,I would like to see you write about Sui Juris...It is so interesting, and a big can of worms once you open it. It's about being your self,not representing yourself court. And founded on the constitution and natural rights relating to common law. And most laws these days are statute laws we abide by because we have signed contracts unknowingly and given up our natural rights.

I would love to see what you come up with while researching this topic....


Anonymous said...


I live the the UK " Euro Zone" if what happened in Iceland is as you describe in this post, the same should have happened to the countries which make up the EU. But it did not, so either you are wrong or it is yet to happen in the EU.

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