Can A Nation Still Succeed After Letting The Banks Fail? Yes!

James Saft
<This is James Saft, a columnist for Reuters.

From Reuters – em>

Iceland’s remarkable return to growth shows once again that in this crisis the best policy is often the one that will make international partners most angry.

Having been reviled and chastised when it refused to make good the outsize debts of its banks, Iceland this week capped a striking turnaround when it announced that its economy expanded by 1.2 percent in real terms in the most recent quarter, its first such rise in two years.

This is in stark contrast to Ireland, whose pliability and inability as a member of the euro zone to act unilaterally leaves it with a still crashing economy which must service ever more debt by making ever deeper cuts to public spending.

Iceland, which sailed into the crisis in 2008 as essentially a small fishing fleet with a massive hedge fund attached, looked its predicament square in the eye and followed a set of policies seemingly designed to tick off both its friends and enemies, doing its small but mighty best to beggar its neighbors by letting its currency crash, imposing capital controls and, crucially, refusing to make whole the global creditors of its three failed international banks.

While an International Monetary Fund and multilateral package was eventually agreed, and a deal with Britain and the Netherlands over debts from Icesave Bank are currently being hammered out, Iceland’s leaders, at least the current ones, seem convinced that making bank creditors share its pain was the right course.

“The difference is that in Iceland we allowed the banks to fail. These were private banks and we didn’t pump money into them in order to keep them going; the state should not shoulder the responsibility,” Iceland’s president, Olafur Grimsson, said last month, tweaking the nose of EU officials who are insisting that Ireland make good all senior creditor calls on its own distended banking system.

“Bondholders should not rely on the government stepping in and bailing them out,” Iceland Central Bank governor Mar Gudmundsson said last week. “They should do their due diligence.”

“I think the Irish are accepting that they were probably too fast in guaranteeing the whole liabilities of banks. Now this is turning out to be a big burden because the assets of these banks turned out to be much worse than they thought.”

Indeed. Though Iceland has a 6.3 percent budget deficit this year, it is on track to soon record a surplus, while Ireland’s deficit this year is 32 percent if the cost of bank bailouts is included. Similarly, Iceland’s unemployment rate has fallen by almost a quarter to 7.3 percent, as against more than 14 percent in Ireland.

Iceland let its banks fail and refused to use public funds to save them. Now, they are making an economic comeback.

They held the shareholders responsible for what their corporate leadership did. Isn’t that bizarre? That you could make people who own banks pay for the losses they incurr? Now we here in the United States suffer with a exceptionally healthy profitable financial sector now sitting on hundreds of billions of dollars it was expected to loan to small businesses and they have paid not one farthing for the terrible crimes they have committed.

James Pilant

2 thoughts on “Can A Nation Still Succeed After Letting The Banks Fail? Yes!

  1. James Saft

    Thanks for posting the link to my story and thanks for the kind words. I know there is a problem with scalability in the Icelandic response, i.e. if the U.S. did it the entire banking system would have to be recapitalized but I cannot help but think that their is a more fair way to apportion the pain than they way the U.S. is now doing.

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