Michael Lewis’s cogent writing and commentary on the subprime collapse and the attendant economic meltdown are in huge demand. I’m reading Liar’s Poker, his book about working at Salomon Brothers in the mid-’80s, at present. I’m just at the point where the market for mortgage bonds is blowing through the roof. Written in 1989, it’s scarily prescient.
This weekend, I also read Mr. Lewis’ new Vanity Fair article/travelogue on the financial collapse in Iceland. I enjoyed that plenty, even though it was vague on the chain of events in 2003 that led to Iceland’s push into the world financial market. Still, it combines a history of the financial explosion (after that moment) with some entertaining observations about Iceland and its insular natives:
A nation so tiny and homogeneous that everyone in it knows pretty much everyone else is so fundamentally different from what one thinks of when one hears the word â€œnationâ€ that it almost requires a new classification. Really, itâ€™s less a nation than one big extended family. For instance, most Icelanders are by default members of the Lutheran Church. If they want to stop being Lutherans they must write to the government and quit; on the other hand, if they fill out a form, they can start their own cult and receive a subsidy. Another example: the ReykjavÃk phone book lists everyone by his first name, as there are only about nine surnames in Iceland, and they are derived by prefixing the fatherâ€™s name to â€œsonâ€ or â€œdottir.â€ Itâ€™s hard to see how this clarifies matters, as there seem to be only about nine first names in Iceland, too. But if you wish to reveal how little you know about Iceland, you need merely refer to someone named Siggor Sigfusson as â€œMr. Sigfusson,â€ or Kristin Petursdottir as â€œMs. Petursdottir.â€ At any rate, everyone in a conversation is just meant to know whomever youâ€™re talking about, so you never hear anyone ask, â€œWhich Siggor do you mean?â€