Money "worthless beyond its shores"

The Isle That Rattled the World


.... housands of Icelanders were protesting one of the strangest economic failures of the global financial crisis. This past fall, every bank that matters in this tiny nation -- that is, all three of them -- failed. Iceland's currency, the krona, became worthless beyond its shores. The country's financial system stopped working.


Iceland is an extreme casualty of an era in which it became extraordinarily easy to borrow money. But it was more than that: An examination of the nation's banking system, which collapsed over about 10 days this autumn, reveals the degree to which Iceland was one of the international financial bubble's most enthusiastic players. Home to fewer people than Wichita, Kan., Iceland became so leveraged and so deeply intertwined with the global financial infrastructure that its collapse has rattled the world from Tokyo to California to the Middle East.

Like Americans who rode a housing bubble thanks to the U.S. Federal Reserve's maintaining low interest rates for years, Icelanders had found a cheap source of borrowing to finance their consumption.

As long as foreign money kept flowing into Iceland, everything remained fine. But an outflow would dangerously reverse the equation, and set the stage for calamity.

Iceland isn't the only small country to be whipsawed by foreign money flooding in, then gushing out. Hungary and Latvia were similarly hit.

What makes Iceland different: It tried to build a global banking center on top of a tiny currency. So when foreign investors tried to pull out -- converting kronur back into dollars or euros en masse -- its currency fell like a rock, spurring more withdrawals.

Amid Iceland's euphoria, there were warnings. In 2006, analysts at Danske Bank wrote a paper titled "Geyser Crisis" saying that Iceland's banks had grown too much, and the country was dangerously reliant on the willingness of foreigners to keep sending money.

Comment: Americans (US citizens) should carefully consider the fate of the Krona and the Zimbabwean dollar. Their fate could be ours!

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