Meltdown Iceland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 April, 2010, 12:00am

Meltdown Iceland
by Roger Boyes
Bloomsbury, HK$117

When David Oddsson became Iceland's prime minister in the 1990s, his country resembled a socialist society. But things changed rapidly through privatisation, which allowed tycoons, dubbed the New Vikings, to exploit easy credit and make conquests abroad (such as British high-street fashion retailers and West Ham United football club). In no time Icelanders came to believe egalitarianism was unnatural and greed was good. Roger Boyes' book, about the country's ignominious slide into insolvency, is an insightful examination of how a relatively small number of high-risk-loving businessmen and incompetent politicians wrought untold damage on the economy; it's a familiar lesson underscoring how bubbles are formed and why they burst. Boyes points to the web of cross-ownership among the financial clans (not unlike those exposed in the Asian crisis) for the lack of transparency fueling the problems. He underscores the similarities with the Thai crash in 1997. Boyes' riveting volume ends with ways in which Icelanders are coping with the crisis. Singer Bjork, for one, has set up a nature investment fund for green start-up companies.