Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Liberalism in Iceland in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries


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Economic liberalism has been articulated in Iceland by, first and foremost, Jon Sigurdsson, the leader of Iceland’s 19th century independence struggle, and by the authors of the first three books on economics in Icelandic, Arnljotur Olafsson, Jon Thorlaksson, and Benjamin Eiriksson. They all argued for free trade and market pricing. In mid-20th century, Professor Olafur Bjornsson was, with Eiriksson, a vocal opponent of the strict economic controls then imposed on the Icelandic economy. Visits in 1980s by Friedrich Hayek, James M. Buchanan, and Milton Friedman, and publications of several books setting out the case for voluntary exchange in place of commands from above, advanced economic liberalism in Iceland and helped along the development of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQ) for Iceland’s fisheries. The present article is mainly the historiography of Icelandic liberalism in the period 1840–1991, leaving the recent decades, including the anti-liberal narrative about them, to a separate treatment to appear in a future issue of the present journal.

Podcast related to this article: Hannes Gissurarson on Liberalism in Iceland (EJW Audio, May 2017).