Economic history of Iceland

The economy of Iceland remained similar for centuries after settlement in the 9th century, which was determined by natural resources and the constraints of culture and technology.

20th century

Animal husbandry was a major livelihood. Wide areas were used for grazing and scattered meadows were used for haymaking.

The Industrial Revolution started in Iceland at the beginning of the 20th century. At the same time diversified significantly. The developments in the areas of fisheries, manufacturing and services turned the stagnant agricultural economy into a modern industrial state.[1]


In 1991, the Independence Party, led by Davíð Oddsson, formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats. This government set in motion market liberalisation policies, privatising a number of small and large companies. At the same time economic stability increased and previously chronic inflation was drastically reduced. In 1995, the Independence Party formed a coalition government with the Progressive Party. This government continued with the free-market policies, privatising two commercial banks and the state-owned telecom Síminn. Corporate incomes tax was reduced to 18% (from around 50% at the beginning of the decade), inheritance tax was greatly reduced and the net wealth tax abolished. "Nordic Tiger" was a term used to refer to the period of economic prosperity in Iceland that began in the post-Cold-War 1990s.[2]

Twenty-first centuries

Icelandic financial crisis

The "Nordic Tiger" period ended in a national financial crisis in 2008, when the country's major banks failed and were taken over by the government.

The Icelandic Central Bank approached the Bank of England in March 2008 for assistance to support its currency as confidence in its heavily indebted banking system began to ebb away.[3]

Following sharp inflation in the Icelandic króna during 2008, the three major banks in Iceland, Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing were placed under government control. A subsidiary of Landsbanki, Icesave, which operated in the UK and the Netherlands, was declared insolvent, putting the savings of thousands of UK and Dutch customers at risk.[4] It also transpired that over 70 local authorities in the UK held more than £550 million of cash in Icelandic banks.[5][6] In response to statements that the accounts of UK depositors would not be guaranteed, the British governments seized assets of the banks and of the Icelandic government.[7]

On 28 October 2008, Iceland's central bank raised its interest rate to 18 per cent to fight inflation.[8]

Following negotiations with the IMF,[9] a package of $4.6 billion was agreed on 19 November, with the IMF loaning $2.1 billion and another $2.5 billion in loans and currency swaps from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. In addition, Poland has offered to lend $200 million and the Faroe Islands have offered 300 million Danish kroner ($50 million, about 3 per cent of Faroese GDP).[10] The Icelandic government also reported that Russia has offered $300 million.[11] The next day, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom announced a joint loan of $6.3 billion (€5 billion), related to the deposit insurance dispute.[12][13] (Dollar values are US dollars.)


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