Individual Behavior and Collective Action: The Path to Iceland's Financial Collapse

31 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2019

See all articles by Thorvaldur Gylfason

Thorvaldur Gylfason

University of Iceland - Faculty of Economics and Business Administration; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Gylfi Zoega

University of Iceland; University of London - Birkbeck College; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: 2019

Abstract

Unsustainable accumulation of debt precedes financial crises. The recent Western financial crisis was no exception in this regard. The external debt of Greece, Iceland, Ireland, and Spain increased exponentially, in Iceland at a rate higher than the rate of interest on foreign debt. The Ponzi scheme that played out in Iceland begs the question why a country would set out on a path that could lead to a financial crisis. We address this question and describe the private incentives faced by bankers, financiers, politicians and others. In particular, we show how private incentives and a culture that valued financial gains above all else collided with socially desirable outcomes. The root of the problem in Iceland as well as in other crisis countries was a failure at the state level to align private incentives with what was socially prudent, a failure due, at least in Iceland, to a combination of mistakes, incompetence and what can only be called corruption. Furthermore, misplaced belief in a market economy where morals and ethics play no role paved the way to serious lapses in accounting and in the operation of the banks.

Keywords: financial crises, corruption, culture, Iceland, quality of governance, rent seeking

JEL Classification: E440, G010, G410

Suggested Citation

Gylfason, Thorvaldur and Zoega, Gylfi, Individual Behavior and Collective Action: The Path to Iceland's Financial Collapse (2019). CESifo Working Paper No. 7874. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3468009

Thorvaldur Gylfason (Contact Author)

University of Iceland - Faculty of Economics and Business Administration ( email )

IS-101 Reykjavik
Iceland
+354 525 4533/00 (Phone)
+354 552 6806 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.hi.is/~gylfason/inenglish.htm)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Gylfi Zoega

University of Iceland ( email )

IS-101 Reykjavik
Iceland

University of London - Birkbeck College ( email )

Malet Street
London, WC1E 7HX
United Kingdom

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
10
Abstract Views
47
PlumX Metrics