Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Economic Crisis and the Future

Over recent days, Reykjavík has witnessed demonstrations in which Icelanders of all ages and walks of life expressed their frustration and discontent with the economic situation.  I asked myself whether this was one of those bittersweet moments in a democracy:  on the one hand, citizens freely expressed their views without fear of oppression; on the other, it was an indication that people are still suffering the consequences of the financial meltdown of 2008.  These images are reminiscent of the challenges that the United States confronts at home.   Much has been written in the U.S. about the difficulties of the many households who are struggling to keep their homes, who have lost their jobs, and much has been debated about what the right formula is to address those problems.  While that debate falls outside the scope of this page, it might be useful to focus on some of the elements that Iceland and the United States share and which have a bearing on the future.

The first element that comes to mind is the educational level of our peoples.  Both countries enjoy some of the highest educational levels in the world.   Along with this, our nations share a culture that promote and reward creativity and entrepreneurship.  As we reflect on the complications and devastation caused by the financial meltdowns, it is reassuring to know that whichever formula our respective countries choose to address them, it will emerge from and be carried out by highly educated and motivated people. 

The second element that comes to mind is one I have already mentioned but that bears repeating -- our strong commitment to democracy.   Americans and Icelanders are fortunate to live in democracies where citizens express their views freely and openly.   We sometimes take this for granted, but it is important to recognize that this will be a critical element in finding the right formula to address the financial meltdown.  Among the cacophony of voices and views should emerge a solution tailored to our respective societies.   The flipside of this is that democracies sometime take longer to find solutions than its citizens are willing to wait for.

These reflections came to mind when I had the honor of signing a bilateral agreement on scientific and technological cooperation on geothermal research and development with the Minister of Industry and Tourism.  There is no doubt that this type of cooperation will bring a better future to both of our countries and to the rest of the world.  Iceland and the United States are world leaders in geothermal energy.  Our cooperation will facilitate the development of advanced, cost-effective geothermal energy technologies and accelerate their availability internationally.   We can view this agreement as a good omen for a better future.  I wish it would arrive soon.

This weekend’s weather was absolutely glorious to travel the Golden Circle.   A perfectly clear sky provided a wonderful introduction to the stunning beauty of the Icelandic countryside, the power and elegance of Gullfoss falls, the energy of Geysir, and the inspiration that the Þingvellir plain provided to Iceland´s founders.    The chill in the air was offset with a warm dish of svínakótilettur, capped with coffee and kleinur.