Crisis everywhere but in Iceland?
I´m a writer from Spain. Many things shocked me when I moved to Iceland. But now after almost 8 years there is something that shocks me more than when I saw for the first time the plumber taking off his shoes before coming in my house.
I am very surprised because there seems to be a crisis everywhere except in Iceland.
While all the attention on the news go to the volcano and Covid, the prices in Iceland keep on rising.
The Real Estate situation
The thing is I wanted to buy a bigger apartment. I saw a nice one and I bid for that without asking for discount (I didn´t dare). Then some hours later the real estate agent told me I had to pay for some extra repairs on the house (worth ISK 2 M) and I accepted. And the next day he told me I had to raise my offer up because some other customers did it, otherwise I was out of the auction. Wow, I just needed to invite the owner to Hotel Rangá with a prepaid dinner. Of course, I said yes and of course someone else offer more than me and I lost the apartment.
And not only the real estate prices, also the cars, the services, the food ...
Reykjavik or Montecarlo?
By the way, I have never seen so many luxury cars as nowadays. The rúntur in Laugavegur is not the same anymore. No sign of the old Toyota, Nissan or Subaru (I miss them). All the cars are Porsche, Land Rover, Audi, BMW, Mercedes ... And Tesla was the car best seller in 2020. This city looks like Montecarlo!
About clothes. I went to Kringlan in February to buy some clothes for my kids. The shop assistant told me there were not sales because it was ferming season. And the same extends to computers, phones, motor bikes, etc. Wow, it looks parents spare no expense when it came to confirmation celebrations in Iceland. I´m shaking, my oldest son is 13. I don´t know what he is going to ask me for. I need hardly to write a bestseller. Luckily, he doesn´t have driving license yet.
As a result of this compulsive consumerism, the inflation rate in Iceland is almost 3%.
Expensive even for Icelanders
When tourists come again, they will be way safe from Covid, but when they see the prices they will faint and fall backwards. Iceland is expensive even for Icelanders. I guess that is why moonlighting is so necessary and asking for loans a habit. However, Iceland is facing the highest unemployment rates (7%) in recent years and the low interest won´t last forever.
On the other hand, it´s a fact the tourism, the main source of the Icelandic economy in recent yearshas been reduced to ashes. Perhaps the only positive thing is that it gives us the possibility to start from scratch. For example, do we want fewer tourists but with greater purchasing power? Then we should improve some facilities. In crises like that there are always new opportunities.
The Government is doing well
Unlike in other countries, the Icelandic Government has managed to keep the economy alive by subsidizing companies and unemployed workers until the tourists come back.
At the same time, the Covid looks to be under control, which currently can be considered another economic rate. Therefore, if nothing unexpected happens, Iceland will be the favorite touristic destination in Europe, and we will be safe again.
The fact the government is paying the bill for everything is fine and to spend the money of the holidays we didn´t go as well. However, it can produce a fictitious economic peak situation and, consequently, an exaggerated consumerism and indebtedness of the population. Especially in Iceland because the loans are indexed to inflation and the krona is more volatile and vulnerable than other currencies.
Film director Borkur Gunnarsson once told me that Icelanders are not afraid of going bankruptcy because they know that one way or another the State will protect them and no one in Iceland starves or sleeps on the street. I hope so.
Jordi Pujolá is a fiction novel author and economist living in Reykjavik.