Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Michael Lewis Iceland article

This is a wonderful article by the renowned Moneyball author that appears in this month's Vanity Fair. It's all about this insane banking boondoggle that has pratically bankrupted a highly educated nation of 300,000 people, who have traditionally made their money through fishing. A couple years ago at a trade show, I had the opportunity to hang out with a couple guys from the Icelandic post office, and I must say they were a bit unique - and this article beautifully (and sometimes very comically) reflects the uniqueness of these Nordic people. (Warning: It's a bit long and the ending isn't really a zinger, but it's still a pleasure to read.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that. It shows that a life based on old school knowledge--before the advent of fancy financiers and supposed easy money--is still the best way to live.

So, while we run the "rat race," trying to accumulate wealth, all we can really do is continue to live in the moment and do our best. There is no panacea.

And money, alas, is fleeting.

I really feel bad for the Icelanders. They gave up the Old Ways in exchange for easy money, and it has seemingly harmed more than helped.

Ralph said...

I don't know that their "old ways" were so great, as I got the feelinig they were dirt poor before they made some adjustments to their fishing industry - of course, that eventually led to the economic meltdown - I guess if they could have stopped, but then again, who knows when to stop.

Anonymous said...

Is "dirt poor" better than being in debt to the tune of $330,000 per family?

They should probably just invade Scotland...plunder would get them back in black.

Ralph said...

I was thinking about your comments this morning - and it brought to mind two schools of thought on such thing:

On one side, you have the Alfred Lord Tennyson: "Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."

Other the other side is the rock band Yes: "Owner of a lonely heart; much better than owner of a broken heart."

I'm not sure which is right.

As for the invastion strategy to wipe out debt: didn't we just try that with Iraq?


Anonymous said...

Well, we invaded Iraq but didn't plunder Iraq. Big difference.

Now, the Vikings, they knew how to plunder (especially in the Bud Grant days).

Serioulsy, the Vikings of olde did not care about promoting democracy in the Arab world, which seems to be our fetish.

Love the Tennyson/Yes reference.

I'm a big Tennyson fan, and your reference brough to mind his famous poem, Ulysses, where Tennyson writes, "I cannot rest from travel; I will live life to the lees."

Always loved that line. So, I'm not saying that we should not "venture" into the world...far from it. I definitely believe in the line: "He who dares, wins."

So I'm all about measured risk.

At the same time, my point is that we shouldn't abandon time-honored ways in the search of easy money. If the current economic crisis has taught us anything, it's that violating traditional lending and investment practices doesn't do much good in the long run.

There are no shortcuts...

Ralph said...

Yes, I loved Lewis' description of the Icelandic fishing methods and how they thrived on risk - which acted as a metaphor to how they approached banking as well. Like I say, you can take the boy of the Eastside (or Iceland), but you can't take the Eastside (or Iceland) out of the boy.


Anonymous said...

As an Icelander, I know we have been covered quite a lot in the foreign press and I know we have gotten a lot of criticism -- and rightly so.

However, I have never read such a line of bullshit. While Lewis might be spot-on about the financial elements of the story, he makes gross generalizations and outright fabrications about society here. And whatever beef he has with Icelandic men clearly feeds into the story. This article is ridiculous and it belongs in a tabloid.

I'm not the only one calling Michael Lewis out on the lies he told in this story. Take a look at this New York Magazine post that catalogs the untruths his guys uses to tell his "story":

Elin said...

As an Icelander I have to agree with the comment above. This is such an insulting and generally fabricated piece of writing that I don't think I'll ever believe a word I read in the New York Times or Vanity Fair ever again.
I've got half a mind to write to the editors of these publications and pick the piece a part.
The only thing he might actually have gotten right while he was looking into the financial depression here is the fact that women have done better than men in the banks, and the only bank that is still standing is the one Kristin Petursdottir founded in 2006.