What I do keep coming back to, however, is that Iceland seems much better-positioned for the future. In the Icelandic political system, the discredited political movement that oversaw the crisis and just lost a big election does not have the power to obstruct its successor’s efforts to make necessary change. And having taken power, the main left-of-center party isn’t spending its time trying to mend fences with the failed and discredited right-of-center party—it’s forging an alliance with a different left-wing party that’s been out of government, thus bringing new blood into play that’s not discredited by the crisis.
But beyond that, the fundamentals in Iceland are strong. Their murder rate of 1.03 per 100,000 inhabitants makes it one of the safest countries in the world. They have the highest score on the UN’s education index. Life expectancy at birth is over eighty. Iceland is fifth on the International Telecommunications Union’s list of the most wired countries (US is seventeenth).
I think Americans are drawn to the Iceland story in part because their boom and bubble was even stupider and crazier than ours. But the fact of the matter is that they’re entering into the downturn as a peaceful, well-educated, egalitarian, healthy society with good infrastructure that’s well-positioned to take advantage of whatever opportunities the world of tomorrow may offer. The United States is hardly doomed, but it seems to me that we face some considerably more profound problems in our social and economic structure.