Iceland may have a population of only 320,000, but as a showcase for radical democratic reform it is undoubtedly the country to watch in 2013. In April it will hold parliamentary elections, and a entirely new party is hoping to make an impact. Reykjavik mayor Jón Gnarr – formerly a stand-up comedian – has confirmed that he will stand for Bright Future, a new party that has grown out of the Best party, which stormed to victory in the municipal elections in 2010. Its comical campaign video – to the tune of Tina Turner’s Simply the Best – promised a polar bear for Reykjavik zoo and free towels in all public swimming pools, and attracted many protest votes in the wake of Iceland’s financial crash. But since taking power the party has taken difficult decisions and won plaudits for its “new politics”, which includes deciding policy through online debates and communicating with residents via Facebook.
Now several members have formed Bright Future and hope they can revive an interest in national politics in a similar way. On his own Facebook page Gnarr recently wrote: “I think Iceland could be the perfect laboratory for the future of democracy, direct democracy, participatory budgeting and other ideas.” Or, as he promised in 2010, he may just want to ensure “a drug free parliament by 2020”.
World News in 2013: the stories to watch for | Guardian
“So bailing out the banks while punishing workers is not, in fact, a recipe for prosperity. But was there any alternative? Well, that’s why I’m in Iceland, attending a conference about the country that did something different.
If you’ve been reading accounts of the financial crisis, or watching film treatments like the excellent Inside Job, you know that Iceland was supposed to be the ultimate economic disaster story: its runaway bankers saddled the country with huge debts and seemed to leave the nation in a hopeless position.
But a funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver.
So how’s it going? Iceland hasn’t avoided major economic damage or a significant drop in living standards. But it has managed to limit both the rise in unemployment and the suffering of the most vulnerable; the social safety net has survived intact, as has the basic decency of its society. “Things could have been a lot worse” may not be the most stirring of slogans, but when everyone expected utter disaster, it amounts to a policy triumph.
And there’s a lesson here for the rest of us: The suffering that so many of our citizens are facing is unnecessary. If this is a time of incredible pain and a much harsher society, that was a choice. It didn’t and doesn’t have to be this way.”
— Paul Krugman: The Path Not Taken