Michael Lewis and Charlie Rose Talk Iceland's Collapse Skip to content

Michael Lewis and Charlie Rose Talk Iceland’s Collapse

American author and journalist Michael Lewis, who wrote a controversial feature for Vanity Fair a few months after the Icelandic banking collapse in 2008, discussed the collapse with Charlie Rose on Bloomberg Television on Monday.


A screenshot from the interview.

According to mbl.is, millions watch Rose’s show.

In the part of Rose’s interview with Lewis where the Icelandic banking collapse is mentioned, Lewis described professional fisherman who started working in currency trading, taking risks for the bank that employed him, only three days after leaving the boat and without ever having attended a course on economics.

The whole nation was caught up in a web of deception, Lewis stated, where people told themselves that Icelanders were “financial wizards” whose superiority was the reason for them being able to buy up the world, ranging from Danish newspapers to British retailers.

In light of the small size of the nation, with a population of little more than 300,000, Icelanders basically turned themselves into a hedge fund, Lewis said.

He also discussed Icelandic investor Hannes Smárason’s acquisition of American Airlines as an example where Icelanders attempted to boss others around in areas of which they had limited knowledge.

Icelanders thought they could do this, he said, because many of them were educated in the US and Iceland had become some sort of “a parody of American finance”, Icelandic investors were “reflecting our distorted image back at us,” as Lewis put it.

Another thing which characterized pre-crash Iceland was how male-dominated it was, Lewis pointed out, the vast majority of both political and business leaders were men. After the collapse, women took over, he stated, and recommended the same should happen in the US.

Iceland is included in Lewis’s new book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World.

His earlier writing about Iceland was rather unflattering; in some of his more controversial comments in the Vanity Fair article from 2009 he described Icelanders as “mousy-haired and lumpy”, “among the most inbred human beings on earth” and stated geothermal heat caused people to be “boiled alive” in the shower.

Among those critical of Lewis’s article was Iceland Review’s Jonas Moody, who responded to it with an article posted online in the New York Magazine.

Click here to watch Rose’s interview with Lewis.


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