Iceland's Secret - cover

Iceland's Secret - Bibler

Jarad Bibler

The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Con.

Almost every page of Bibler's revelations about the catastrophic failure of the financial system, economy and lives of Iceland has one shaking one's head and saying "that can't be right."

But it is. There simply are not enough phrases like "house of cards" to cover the story that is revealed in the first few pages - and there are lots more pages to go.

This fantastic, in the true sense of the word, is set against a country that, in 2006 when the global financial crisis began in the overheated housing market of the USA and a rush to dodgy funding of mortgages, had a population of around 300,000. Today, Manchester in the UK has a population of just under 3,000,000. Compare the number of zeros.

Iceland's population was, and is, tiny and with about half of it living and working in one city, Reykjavik, the first thing to be aware of is that all the main characters knew each other.

What the book shows is an isolated community that does business in its own way. The trouble was that its own way was causing a series of inter-connected problems that reached a position that was almost identical to a Ponzi scheme. In order to keep afloat, the country could no longer rely on its internal money supply's recirculating money.

In fact, to be boring about it, the M1 measure was drying up, leading to a need for the velocity of money to increase to a blinding speed. M2, on the other hand was expanding - but as it later turned out, this was a giant fiction.

Iceland did not have the international credibility to borrow the funds necessary for massive quantitive easing. In fact, on the day before Iceland's biggest bank failed, the Central Bank handed over all of the money in reserve, leaving M0 standing at a remarkable zero.

So it wasn't that Iceland's economy was in bad shape - it didn't have an economy.

Bibler explains how households suddenly had no money - bank guarantees are worthless when the guarantor i.e. the government is broke. It was made worse by a bizarre - and still in force - form of home loan: every month the capital is adjusted for the rate of inflation and the interest due calculated on the (always upwards) revised balance.

Those in control of banks treated them as their own piggy banks.

It all started when, against all odds, Iceland's economy was good. Its currency was inexplicably on a rocket ship to untold heights. The banks made lots of money. Their shares were always rising. They opened or bought banks overseas.

But it was all an illusion. The banks made money by market manipulation of their shares, using falsely inflated share values to underpin borrowing which funded, amongst other things, private jets, lavish junkets and more share support.

There was a regulator but it had no teeth - and no idea.

Almost by accident, Bibler - an American who had migrated to Iceland - got a job with the regulator.

And that's where the astonishing revelations start.

This is the book that lays bare how corrupt practices, regulatory oversight (i.e. not supervision) and the old boy's network caused untold harm and then protected those behind it. In some other countries, Bibler would have been found dead in a ditch. In Iceland, they just closed down his department and put the same people back in charge.

And put some of them in jail. ish.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill
Hariman House