when one thinks of the phrase despotic regimes come to mind. But Mark Blyth makes an ethnographic discovery in Iceland.
…A week or so ago the FT published a piece that asked why, if social democracies are so nice, their crime fiction is so dark? It’s a fair point, and anyone sitting through the middle section of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ has probably asked the same question. I didn’t read the FT’s answer, but my own answer comes from being in Iceland last week; a trip that gave me an insight into intellectual capture that I didn’t really appreciate before: that some truths are harder to shake than others.
While in Reykjavik I asked the locals what they thought was the biggest problem facing Iceland post-bubble. Interestingly, they didn’t say ‘the banks,’ or even ‘the debt’ – they said ‘the consensus.’ That is, being a consensus democracy, like most Scandinavian social democracies, its really hard to talk openly about what happened. The consensus is what makes equalitarian redistribution possible: we can all agree without debating it. But it also limits the ability to question the foundations of the system itself. In such an environment post-crisis discussions become ‘passive-aggressive.’ Like an old couple that should have divorced years ago, they displace the event itself and focus instead on anything else while personalizing everything. In Iceland’s case this means hunting down ‘the greedy few’ rather than questioning the system as a whole: a system that allowed the banks to grow to, at their height, 1000 percent of GDP. To do so would be to question “the consensus.” That is, the truth as they saw it.