So, I promised more details on the setting for the beautiful waterfall photo that I posted yesterday. I was in Iceland, giving a talk at Reykjavik University, and some of you recognized the location as Gullfoss. This was my first trip to Iceland and it was spectacular! Icelanders are some of the warmest people you’d ever want to meet (their climate less so – remember, I’m southern) and the country is beautiful.
My incredibly gracious hosts for the trip were Ragnhildur Helgadóttir, Professor of law, and Friðrik Már Baldursson, dean of the school of business. Ragnhildur is a UVA alum, having done both her LLM and SJD there, and is the author of several recent books, including, Almannatryggingar og félagsleg aðstoð [Social Security Law] (with Guðmundur Sigurðsson) and The Influence of American Theories on Judicial Review in Nordic Constitutional Law.
And Friðrik, in addition to being about the nicest, most unassuming person in the world, is also the only business school dean I’ve ever met who is also a statistician and mathematician. Friðrik was formerly a faculty member at Columbia’s statistics department, before making his way to the econ departments and business schools at University of Iceland and then Reykjavik. His research involves energy and environmental issues, among other things.
I was quite excited to present this paper to an Icelandic audience. The topic was public involvement in banking reform issues and, as most Lounge readers already know, Iceland was faced with a banking crisis that garnered international attention – and litigation – a few years ago. For those who don’t remember the crisis, or never followed it, NPR Planet Money had several podcasts that are a great introduction to some of the issues. I would link to them here, had I not given up after 20 minutes of vainly searching for them [Note to NPR: work on that podcast search feature.]
One of the most striking aspects of the dispute, to me, was the use of public referenda (two, I believe) on Icesave. So, I assumed that my Icelandic audience would have quite different views about public involvement in financial issues than a US audience might. But, that turned out not to be the case, I think.
One of the things we discussed (and that I address in the paper) was the tension between the ideal of public involvement as a check on special interest capture of the political process, and the general inability of the public to understand – or even care about – these issues enough to act as an effective check that goes beyond “banks are greedy.”
And a very refreshing aspect of the Reykjavik workshop culture is that the local community is invited to, and attends, faculty workshops. So members of the local business bar (particularly banking specialists), the press, and the local business community were at the workshop and participated in the Q&A. It was especially nice to have this discussion that cut across, not only national boundaries, but professional ones as well.
Like Roger, just a whole bunch of reasons to make Iceland my new favorite place.