Monday, May 16, 2011

Iceland's big thaw - Learning from the Vikings

“Everyone was working for the banks — from the physicists to the philosophers,” one Icelander told me. I met two women in their mid-20s who said that when they graduated from college, virtually all of their classmates were jockeying to get into finance (...)

When money was easy, he said, “innovation was at a minimum in the country.” The prevailing sense was that it was a waste of time to invent things yourself when you could just “buy innovation from someone else.” The boom, Gudjonsson concluded, “made us lazy thinkers.”(...)

(...)when Iceland’s economy hit rock bottom, and the entire country was seized by panic — was also his son’s 16th birthday. “I went up to my boy, and I had already congratulated him on his birthday, but then I said, ‘Congratulations, you will now be able to live in a society which is closer to realizing what it is.’ ” I pressed Grimsson, asking why exactly he was so happy for his son. “After this,” Grimsson replied, “he had a much better chance of growing up to be a real person instead of a vapid airhead.”

Iceland's big thaw - (NYT)

We can learn from these Vikings. For years now we have a lamentable brain drain going on. A whole generation of physicists turned quants, earning a living through ruinous voodoo mathematics; literature majors in outbound sweatshops selling fraudulent investments; philosophy majors speculating in real estate - a whole people eagerly emulating a certain presidential candidate with a dead hamster on his head and another inside it. At an even more insidious level, those who nominally remain in creative professions feel obliged to spend a lot of their time nursing stock portfolios and worrying about market strategies (guilty as charged). How can you not? As everyone does it, you feel you must do it just to stay in the same place! Now that finance is a byword, Icelanders have a chance of putting their creative brains to use. Meanwhile,  in the EU and the USA, it is still in finance, the stock market and the banks that we stupidly set our hopes. Perhaps we need The Big One to come and hit us sooner rather than later.

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