What happens to ordinary people when a nation’s economy collapses?
Over the last year and a half I have been asked that question, or variations thereof, numerous times. Much of the discussion about the meltdown here in Iceland has focused on the Big Picture – the systemic failure, the culprits, the banks, the currency fiasco, the political crisis … and [lest we forget!] Icesave. However, very little space has been given over to what happens to normal people who suddenly find themselves in alien circumstances that are completely beyond their control.
The question “what is the impact on ordinary people?” is not a simple one to answer, because everyone experienced – or experiences – the kreppa differently. How it manifested in individual lives or households depends so much on their circumstances before the meltdown. However, I can say this: no one in Iceland has remained unaffected. In a close-knit society such as this one, everyone feels the impact in one way or another. We have all been affected by the rapid devaluation of the króna, the resulting sharp rise in the cost of living, the inflation, the corresponding increase in our mortgages, and so on.
And everyone has been affected on an emotional level. For many people, the meltdown in autumn 2008 was an intensely traumatic experience. And of course the aftermath has been a rollercoaster ride, from the fear and anxiety that gripped everyone in autumn 2008, to the upsurge of anger during the Kitchenware Revolution, to the intense frustration of waiting for those culpable to be brought to justice, to struggling with the fallout in the form of debt or unemployment or something else.
Earlier this year, I was commissioned to write an article about the effects of the kreppa on ordinary people. As I started interviewing different individuals and hearing their stories, I became more and more fascinated by this aspect of the meltdown – the various facets that are the personal reflections of the Big Picture.
And so, I’ve decided to launch a small collection of those stories as an e-book, which I’ve called Living Inside the Meltdown. I’m just putting the finishing touches on it now, and it will be available through this website, hopefully as early as next week.
In the book, ten people share their experiences of the meltdown:
- A man in his thirties whose two homes went into foreclosure and is moving to Norway with his girlfriend
- A single mother who was studying abroad during the meltdown and found herself cut off financially when currency restrictions were put in place
- A police officer who guarded the parliament buildings during the Kitchenware Revolution
- A Nicaraguan-Icelandic couple who were living outside Iceland during the meltdown and who returned home to an entirely different landscape
- Two men from Portugal who had come to Iceland to work in the building sector and who were laid off after the collapse
- A small business owner who, after many years of operations, was suddenly forced to pay for all goods up front because foreign suppliers did not trust Icelanders
- A woman who was working as a portfolio manager for Glitnir bank, managing the assets of affluent individuals, when the bank collapsed
Like I said, I am putting the finishing touches on this now and will be launching the book probably next week.