Iceland: “Back to Fish”

There’s been a decent amount of coverage of tiny Iceland over the last couple of weeks, as the country’s banking system and economy have gone to ground. But nothing that I’ve read is as mournful and poetic as this excellent Wall Street Journal piece by Charles Forelle:

For the banks, growing was easy. They could borrow at low cost from all over the globe, then turn around and with little oversight lend that money to businesses and entrepreneurs wherever they wanted — in the U.K., Denmark and the U.S. Over time, the banks’ assets — largely these loans they made — grew and grew.

The money rode a carousel: Iceland banks borrowed, made loans, borrowed some more. They had to pay their own lenders, of course, but that wasn’t a problem — there was always someplace to borrow more money with which to make the payments.

Then, last winter, the credit crunch struck. By this summer, no one wanted to lend to anyone, really, least of all Icelandic banks.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.