There's any number of things to recommend the article. It's a very good "economics for dummies" look at what went wrong. It's a fascinating look at Iceland's culture and how that culture created what happened to the country's economy. It's also has the added bonus of occasionally being darkly funny. While the reason why Range Rovers keep accidentally exploding is amusing, this is probably my favourite.
No one thought that Icelanders might have some natural gift for smelting aluminum, and, if anything, the opposite proved true. Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.”
But I think in lieu of all the discussions about Newfoundland independence in recent days, it's also worth taking a look for a small reality check. No, Newfoundland and Labrador isn't the same as Iceland. There's a healthy degree of separation between the two, no matter what some people might have thought.
(I recall deeply hating this documentary when it first aired and wrote as much in The Express, which didn't earn me any friends in certain St. John's arts circles. It might be worth rebroadcasting now for the comedic value, but let's not embarrass Moore any more than she managed to do to herself).
Still, there are lessons to learn in this story from the way Iceland has behaved in recent years. For example, whenever outsiders looked at Iceland's economic "miracle" in the middle part of this decade and went "whoa, whoa, whoa...what the hell are you guys doing?" Such criticisms were batted away with a "you're simply jealous of our success."
There was a belief in the innate superiority of Icelandic culture over those of others. It's a very "inter-bred" community. There was an unwillingness to allow outsiders to get involved in their business affairs, plus a very aggressive, one might almost say, macho attitude and belief that they can do anything. One fishing captain seems embarrassed when confronted with how much he had to learn before he believed he was good enough to captain a ship compared to how long he studied before believing he was capable of understanding world financial issues.
So is all of that possible in Newfoundland and Labrador? Well, large chunks of it you would have to stretch pretty hard to make the connection. But a dislike of outsiders questioning the wisdom of what you're doing? A slightly smug belief in the superiority of your culture over others? Not too hard a stretch...
What happened in Iceland couldn't have happened in Newfoundland simply because so much of what went wrong there was because of how badly the banking industry was run. (Food for thought, would an independent Newfoundland and Labrador have its own bank? Because nothing bad has ever happened in our history with locally run banks). That doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned from what happened with Iceland. Reading this article should be mandatory in government circles and a good primer for the rest of the province.
1. The battle for straight time - A.C. Newman
2. All U can eat - Ben Folds
3. Working class hero - Green Day*
4. Take to the sky - Tori Amos
5. Song to Woody - Bob Dylan