07 March 2010

Iceland Voters Reject Bank Bailouts in Crushing Electoral Defeat; Neo-Liberalism In Context

"Voters rejected the bill because ordinary people, farmers and fishermen, taxpayers, doctors, nurses, teachers, are being asked to shoulder through their taxes a burden that was created by irresponsible greedy bankers."

"Is there any reason why the American people should be taxed to guarantee the debts of banks, any more than they should be taxed to guarantee the debts of other institutions, including merchants, the industries, and the mills of the country?" Senator Carter Glass (D-Va), author of the Banking Act of 1933 and of Glass-Steagall

It is interesting that the government of Iceland had already declared the vote of the people as 'obsolete.' One has to wonder when the voters will declare their current government and their representatives as obsolete. One would give the government credit for at least allowing a vote on a referendum, but to then disregard and circumvent it through political devices is seems like a base hypocrisy.

Iceland is a victim of the neo-liberal economic deregulation of the 1990's, in which a few bankers can buy the government, and rack up enormous profits for themselves in Ponzi like leverage, and then attempt to socialize the debt back to the people when their schemes collapse.

Neo-Liberalism is a system of economic thought embracing the efficient markets hypothesis, the inherent good of deregulation and the natural impediment of government regulation, the necessity of free trade and globalization, the supremacy of the corporation over the individual person in the social economy, and supply side economics. It most likely favors a one world currency and consolidation of production into large corporate combinations or 'trusts' under the principle of laissez-faire.

Neo-liberalism may degenerate into crony capitalism, or even corporatism, as its theoretical idealism of perfect rationalism and virtue falters against the reality of human behaviour. In times of financial crisis, for example, neo-liberalism ironically turns to centralized economic planning by allegedly private banks which appropriate public funds and the power of the monetary license to socialize private debts, and, in a strikingly Orwellian twist, eviscerate the discipline of the markets and the individual to preserve their freedom, and the well being of the private corporations. Although now largely repudiated, neo-liberalism has strong roots in the public consciousness, and its adherents hold considerable power in Western governments and among the 'freshwater school' of American economics.

What makes neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism 'neo' or new is their attitude towards the relationship of the individual to the state. Both tend to denigrate and diminish the condition and rights of the inividual as compared to the consideration of the corporate system or the centralized command state.

In the States, the Congress and the President have just ignored the massive protests against their own bank bailouts. The US was able to cloak its own debt assumptions through accounting frauds, claiming that the bailouts were repaid by the banks. The bailouts are wrapped in AIG, Fannie and Freddie, and the Federal Reserve. This is the advantage of owning the currency, the IMF and ratings agencies. And of course your media.

Although Europeans and the markets are looking at the 'PIGS' for the next serious default as the economic hitmen are moving from Iceland to Greece, the real test of globalization in financial markets and the dominant control of the private banks will come in the UK, a sovereign people too proud and strong to go down into feudal servitude and the rule of tyrants easily. Or at least one would hope.

The Relationship of the Condition and Rights of the Individual to the Organized State

Iceland Rejects Icesave Depositors Bill in Referendum

By Omar R. Valdimarsso

March 7 (Bloomberg) -- Icelanders rejected by a massive majority a bill that would saddle each citizen with $16,400 of debt in protest at U.K. and Dutch demands that they cover losses triggered by the failure of a private bank.

Ninety-three percent voted against the so-called Icesave bill, according to preliminary results on national broadcaster RUV. Final results will be published today.

The bill would have obliged the island to take on $5.3 billion, or 45 percent of last year’s economic output, in loans from the U.K. and the Netherlands to compensate the two countries for depositor losses stemming from the collapse of Landsbanki Islands hf more than a year ago. The island’s political leaders say they’ve already moved on to talks over a new accord.

“The government’s survival doesn’t rest with this Icesave vote,” Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir told RUV after the preliminary count was announced. “The government coalition remains solid,” Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson told RUV.

Failure to reach an agreement on the bill has left Iceland’s International Monetary Fund-led loan in limbo and prompted Fitch Ratings to cut its credit grade to junk. Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s have signaled they may follow suit if no settlement is reached.


Iceland’s leaders are trying to negotiate a new deal with the U.K. and the Dutch that focuses on the interest rate payable on the loan, making the bill in yesterday’s vote “obsolete,” Sigurdardottir said on March 4.

Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager in a statement posted on the Internet last night said he is “disappointed” the agreement hasn’t yet come into effect. The U.K. was “obviously disappointed,” while “not surprised,” said a Treasury official who declined to be identified in line with departmental policy.

Iceland’s government pointed to “steady progress toward a settlement” in the past three weeks in a statement.

“The British and Dutch Governments have indicated a willingness to accept a solution that will entail a significantly lower cost for Iceland than that envisaged in the prior agreement,” the statement said.

The U.K. and Netherlands have offered an interest rate of the London Interbank Offered Rate plus 2.75 percentage points, according to the U.K. Treasury official. That’s the same as the rate for the loan from the Nordic countries that the Icelandic Government accepted in July 2009. The new offer also gave relief on the first two years of interest for the loan, amounting to 450 million euros.

‘Ordinary People’

The three governments have declared their intention to continue the talks, the Iceland statement said.

Voters rejected the bill because “ordinary people, farmers and fishermen, taxpayers, doctors, nurses, teachers, are being asked to shoulder through their taxes a burden that was created by irresponsible greedy bankers,” said President Olafur R. Grimsson, whose rejection of the bill resulted in the plebiscite, in a Bloomberg Television interview on March 5.

The Icesave deal passed through parliament with a 33 to 30 vote majority. Grimsson blocked it after receiving a petition from a quarter of the population urging him to do so. The government has said it’s determined any new deal must have broader political backing to avoid meeting a similar fate.

Icelanders used the referendum to express their outrage at being asked to take on the obligations of bankers who allowed the island’s financial system to create a debt burden more than 10 times the size of the economy.


The nation’s three biggest banks, which were placed under state control in October 2008, had enjoyed a decade of market freedoms following the government’s privatizations through the end of the 1990s and the beginning of this decade.

Protesters have gathered every week, with regular numbers swelling to about 2,000, according to police estimates. The last time the island saw demonstrations on a similar scale was before the government of former Prime Minister Geir Haarde was toppled.

Icelanders have thrown red paint over house facades and cars of key employees at the failed banks, Kaupthing Bank hf, Landsbanki and Glitnir Bank hf, to vent their anger. The government has appointed a special commission to investigate financial malpractice and has identified more than 20 cases that will result in prosecution.

Economic Impact

The island’s economy shrank an annual 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the statistics office said on March 5, and contracted 6.5 percent in 2009 as a whole.

Household debt with major credit institutions has doubled in the past five years and reached about 1.8 trillion kronur ($14 billion) in 2009, compared with the island’s $12 billion gross domestic product, according to the central bank.

Icelanders, the world’s fifth-richest per capita as recently as 2007, ended 2009 18 percent poorer and will see their disposable incomes decline a further 10 percent this year, the central bank estimates.

Grimsson, who has described his decision to put the depositor bill to a referendum as the “pinnacle of democracy,” says he’s not concerned about the economic fallout of his decision.

“The referendum has drawn back the curtain and people see on the stage the matter in a new perspective,” he said in an interview. “That has strengthened our position and our cause.”