Allocating fishing rights: catch history or auctions?

RNH is organising, with others, an international conference in the meeting hall of the National Museum Monday 29 August between 14 and 17 on a topic hotly debated in Iceland: Two ways of allocating fishing rights, on the basis of catch history (with transferability, implying that a market allocation by trade takes over after an initial allocation) or by regular government auctions. Gary Libecap, Professor of Economics at the University of California in Santa Barbara, gives a lecture on “The Allocation of Fishing Permits”. There he tries to answer the question what system of fishing rights is likely to produce most economic benefits in the long term. He compares allocation on the basis of catch history, or “grandfathering”, which has been most common in the move from free and open access, and allocation by regular government auctions, much-discussed in Iceland but not widely tried. He also discusses the experience of utilising other kinds of natural resources such as oil wells and land. Professor Libecap is an internationally acknowledged expert on resource economics and has published several books and papers on natural resources in the American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy and other scientific journals. He is a past president of the Economic History Association, the Western Economics Association International and the International Society for the New Institutional Economics.

Ragnar Arnason, Professor of Fisheries Economics at the University of Iceland, gives a lecture on “Fisheries Taxation and Economic Efficiency”. He analyses three common fallacies in the discussion on the fisheries: 1) that fisheries profits are generated only by the resource and not by the fishing firms; 2) that only holders of fishing rights gain by the introduction of an efficient system; and 3) that fisheries profits can be taxed without negative economic impacts. Professor Arnason has published widely in the field of resource economics and has served as an adviser on fisheries to the World Bank and other international organisations in many countries.

After the two keynote lectures a panel of scholars from different fields will discuss them, with Professor Birgir Thor Runolfsson in the chair. The four panelists are: Dr. Tryggvi Thor Herbertsson who as a former Director of the Economic Research Institute of the University of Iceland and a former Member of Parliament had wide experience in the field; Helgi A. Gretarsson, Professor of Law at the University of Iceland, who has published several books and papers on the legal aspects of fisheries management; Charles Plott, Professor of Economics at the California Institute of Technology, a renowned expert on experimental economics, with special interest in auctions; and Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics at the University of Iceland, who has published books and papers on the ethics and politics of allocating private rights to utilise natural resources, most recently in the book The Icelandic Fisheries: Sustainable and Profitable, published by the University of Iceland Press in 2015 and available online. The participation by RNH in the conference forms a part of the joint project by RNH and AECR, The European Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism”. It is also a fruit of the cooperation between RNH and IDDE, the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe.

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Publication Party: Books on the Baltics

David Oddsson speaks at dinner 26 August 1991. Others from left: Algirdas Saudargas, Lennart Meri and Fridrik Sophusson, then Icelandic finance minister.

The Icelandic Public Book Club (Almenna bokafelagid) hosts, with the honorary consuls in Reykjavik of the three Baltic republics, a meeting and a publication party Friday 26 August 2016 between 17 and 19 at Litlatorg in the University of Iceland. The occasion is the republication, on this day, of two books which came out in Icelandic during and in support of the Baltic nations’ struggle for independence: Baltic Eclipse, Orlaganott yfir Eystrasaltslondum in Icelandic, by Ants Oras in 1955, translated by the Rev. Sigurdur Einarsson; and Estland: En studie i imperialism [Estonia: A Study in Imperialism], Eistland: Smathjod undir oki erlends valds in Icelandic, by Andres Küng in 1973, translated by then-law student David Oddsson. August 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the re-recognition by Iceland of the three Baltic states, celebrated at a signing ceremony in Hofdi 26 August 1991 with the three foreign ministers of the Baltic countries, Lennart Meri from Estonia, Janis Jürkans from Latvia and Saudargas Algirdas from Lithuania as well as Icelandic foreign minister Jon B. Hannibalsson who had been a strong supporter of the Baltic countries in their struggle. In the evening, the foreign ministers attended a dinner given by David Oddsson who had now become Iceland’s prime minister. A conference in late September 2016 in memory of the events of 1991 is also being organised by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the support of RNH. The Baltic states were all occupied in 1940 and forced to become “soviet republics”, but they regained their independence in 1991, after a failed coup by hardline communists in Russia and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Tunne Kelam

The publication party will be addressed by David Oddsson, editor of Morgunbladid, and Tunne Kelam, MEP. Oddsson will tell the story of the Icelandic re-recognition of the Baltic countries, but also of his support behind the scenes, as prime minister in 1991–2004, of NATO membership for the Baltic states. A historian by profession, Tunne Kelam lost his job as an archivist as a result of his support for Estonian independence, and was employed for many years as a night-shift worker on a state poultry farm. He was the chairman of the executive body of the Congress of Estonia which was organised in 1990 parallel to the so-called Supreme Soviet set up in 1940 by the occupation forces. Kelam was member of the Constitutional Assembly in 1991–1992 and a member of the democratically elected Estonian Parliament 1992–2004, being Vice-Speaker in 1992–2003 and chairman of the European affairs committee in 1997–2003. He has been a member of the European Parliament for the Estonian Pro Patria and Res Publica Union since 2004. He is the author of two books on current affairs and was one of the translators of the Estonian edition of the Black Book of Communism.

Sandra Vokk

Sandra Vokk, executive director of Unitas Foundation, will chair the publication party. Unitas was established in 2008 by Mart Laar, former Estonian prime minister, and others  in order to defend Western humanitarian values against totalitarianism in theory and practice. The two books by Oras and Küng on the struggle for independence in the Baltic countries form a part of the series on “Documents on the history of communism” which the Public Book Club, AB, brings out under the editorship of Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson. Previously in the series have appeared Articles on communism, Greinar um kommunisma in Icelandic, by British philosopher Bertrand Russell, Women in Stalin’s prison camps, Konur i thraelakistum Stalins in Icelandic, by Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen, Out of the Night, Ur alogum in Icelandic, by Jan Valtin (Richard Krebs) and Khruschev’s Secret Speech on Stalin. Professor Gissurarson writes an introduction and provides End Notes for all the books which are also published online free of charge.

The publication party is open to all and admission is free. The books in the series mentioned above will be for sale at a discount price, with some other AB publications. The series is a part of the joint project of RNH and AECR, Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe of the Victims”. It is also supported by Atlas Network and IDDE, Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe. RNH is a member institute of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience which seeks to preserve the memory of the victims of totalitarianism.

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AB Receives Freedom Award

Jona, Laufey Run and Sigridur, under the watchful eyes of Jon Thorlaksson, the first leader of the Independence Party and a committed classical liberal.

AB (Almenna bokafelagid, The Public Book Club) received the 2016 Kjartan Gunnarsson Freedom Award, given by the Association of Young Independents, SUS, and named after lawyer Kjartan Gunnarsson, long executive director of the Independence Party and an untiring champion of freedom. Jonas Sigurgeirsson, AB executive director, received the award 21 July from Laufey Run Ketilsdottir, President of the Young Independents. It is given annually to one institution and one indidual who, in 2016, was Sigridur A. Andersen, who as member of parliament for the Independence Party has been an indefatigable frredom fighter in public life.

In his acceptance speech, Jonas Sigurgeirsson pointed out a problem that Icelandic publishers, struggling against odds on a very small market, had to face. It was that the state in Iceland, unlike most other Western countries, operated around a quarter of all publishing. A large government agency published textbooks for schools, and the state also produced audio editions of Icelandic books without any charge, allegedly for the blind, but in reality used by an increasing number of ordinary people in their cars and summer houses and on walking tours. Ms Andersen agreed that one of the most important tasks of the supporters of free enterprise was that agents in the marketplace could compete fairly.

In the last few years, AB has published many works for liberty and against totalitarian nazism and communism: In 2011, a 624 pp. history of the Icelandic communist movement 1918–1998 by Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson; and an analysis by journalist Sigurdur Mar Jonsson of the Icesave deals in 2009 and 2010, twice voted down in national referenda. In 2012, a translation of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. In 2013, a translation of Atlas Shrugged; and an analysis of the so-called “pot-and-pans revolution” in 2009 by historian Stefan Gunnar Sveinsson. In 2014, The Rational Optimist by science author Matt Ridley; a collection of scholarly papers on income distribution and taxation; and a translation of We the Living by Rand. In 2015, an analysis of scandals at the Icelandic Financial Services Authority by journalist Eggert Skulason; and reprints of three anti-totalitarian works, articles on communism by Bertrand Russell; memoirs by two women, Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen, of Stalin’s prison camps; and Out of the Night, an account by Jan Valtin (Richard Krebs) of his time as a Comintern agent.

The next AB books will be reprints of two books on the Baltic countries, Baltic Eclipse by Ants Oras from 1955 and Estonia: A Study in Imperialism by Andres Küng from 1973, both with forewords and notes by Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson. They will come out 26 August 2016 when a quarter of a century has passed since Iceland was the first state to re-recognise the independence of the Baltic countries. At a publication reception, hosted jointly by AB and the honorary consuls in Reykjavik of the three Baltic countries, David Oddsson will make an address. It was he, as a young law student, who translated the book by Küng in 1973, and he was Prime Minister when the Baltic countries were re-recognised in 1991. As Prime Minister in 1991–2004 he also actively supported NATO membership of the Baltic countries. Distinguished guests are expected from the Baltic countries on this occasion. Another book soon to be published is Civilisation: The West and the Rest by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. AB also plans to make the second part of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations available as soon as possible. The first part was published in 1997 in a superb translation by Thorbergur Thorsson. Historian Snorri G. Bergsson is writing two books for AB, on refugees in Iceland before the 2nd World War, and on the origin of the Icelandic communist party.

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Successful Summer School

The summer school of the Association of free high school students in Reykjavik 8–10 July 2016 was very successful. About 30 people attended the school which was supported by RNH as a part of the project “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism” conducted with AECR, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. The school began with a reception at the home of Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH academic director, Friday 8 July, but it took place Saturday and Sunday at the Hitt husid in Posthusstraeti.

Saturday 9 July Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson spoke about the “Philosophy of Freedom”. He distinguished between eight different approaches to freedom, the centrist position of J. S. Mill and J. M. Keynes, the Austrian School: Mises and Hayek, the Chicago School: Friedman, Becker and Stigler, the property rights school: Demsetz and Coase, the strong theory of human rights espoused by Robert Nozick and the notion of the creative individual versus the parasite found in the novels of Ayn Rand. Professor Ragnar Arnason spoke about the “Economics of Freedom”. He stressed that he was speaking about negative freedom in Isaiah Berlin’s sense: the absence of constraints. Freedom was being able to do what one wanted to do. It could be demonstrated, Professor Arnason said, that in the free market the opportunities to do what one wanted to do were many more than elsewhere.

Jadranka Kaludjerovic speaks about the Austrians.

Federico Fernandez from the Austrian Economics Institute in Vienna spoke about the bankruptcy of socialism in Venezuela. He pointed out that some decades ago the country was one of the, if not the, richest country in Latin America, literally swimming in oil. But Hugo Chávez had taken power, nationalising companies and reducing freedom, with the consequence that the country was now one of the poorest on the continent. Shops were empty, schools were deteriorating, and many went hungry. This could not be blamed on lower oil prices because the price of a barrel had been around $10 when Chávez took over, but it was now around $40–50. Jadrana Kaludjerovic from Montenegro spoke about the Austrian economists whose arguments for the free market had been intellectually very powerful. Ludwig von Mies had refuted centralised economic planning. Friedrich A. Hayek had pointed out that the distribution of knowledge made the distribution of power necessary. And Joseph Schumpeter had coined the term “creative destruction” about the process under capitalism by which the less efficient was replaced by the more efficient.

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Totalitarianism and Émigrés in Iceland

Gissurarson delivering his paper in Viljandi.

RNH’s Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, read a paper 29 June 2016 to a conference on “Totalitarianism, Deportation and Emigration”, held in the Estonian village Viljandi by the Platform of European Memory and Conscience.

Professor Gissurarson’s paper was about two Germans in Iceland before the 2nd World War, the Jewess Henny Goldstein Ottosson and the Nazi Bruno Kress, whose lives were intertwined in some unexpected ways. Before the War their paths did not cross much in Iceland, even if sources claim that Kress had, like other German Nazis, been unfriendly to the Jewish refugees in the country. But there was another connection. The SS operated a “research institute”, Ahnenerbe or Ancestral Heritage, which gave Kress a grant to study Icelandic. Another topic in which Ahnenerbe took interest was the physiology of Jews: Henny Goldstein’s brother was picked up by Ahnenerbe “experts” at Auschwitz and brought to the Natzweiler prison camp where he was measured and then murdered. (After the War, the Ahnenerbe Director was hanged.) Her first husband, Robert Goldstein, and her sister-in-law and nephew were all murdered in Auschwitz. After the War the paths of Henny Goldstein and Bruno Kress crossed again, unexpectedly, in Iceland. Now Kress had become a communist, residing in East Germany, and in the spring of 1958 he was invited to the 60th birthday party of Icelandic communist leader Brynjolfur Bjarnason. There, to her great surprise, Henny Goldstein recognised the man who had been a zealous Nazi in Iceland before the War and complained about it. The incident was hushed down however. Kress was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Iceland on its 75th anniversary in 1986.

A lively discussion followed the paper, with some in the audience expressing surprise at the fact that the University of Iceland had given an old Nazi an honorary doctorate. Other speakers at the conference included Vytautas Landsbergis, former President of Lithuania, and Urmas Reinsalu, the Estonian Minister of Justice. Professor Gissurarson’s contribution to the conference formed a part of the joint project of RNH and AECR, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, on “Europe of the Victims”. At the conference, the annual Prize of the Platform was awarded to Leopoldo López, the leader of the opposition in Venezuela and now a political prisoner. López’ father received the award on his behalf. Here López speaks in Oslo, before his imprisonment:

Slides of Gissurarson Paper Viljandi 29 June 2016

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Gissurarson: Why was Icelandic Left Small and Radical?

Cartoon by Halldor Petursson of the three different incarnations of the radical left movement in Iceland.

RNH Academic Director Hannes H. Gissurarson, Professor of Politics at the University of Iceland, read a paper at a conference organised by the Icelandic Association of Political Scientists 16 June 2016. The paper was on why the Icelandic Left was smaller and more radical than in the Scandinavian countries. (By the Left Professor Gissurarson meant the combined electoral support support of social democrats and communists: In Iceland, they traditionally constituted about one-third of the voters, but about one-half in Sweden, Denmark and Norway.) A plausible explanation why the Left was small in Iceland was, Professor Gissurarson contended, that in the formative years of party politics Iceland was not as industrialised and urbanised as the Scandinavian countries, while the still vivid legacy from the independence struggle also hampered the Icelandic Left.

But why was the Icelandic Left so radical? Why did communists or left socialists in the early 1940s surpass the social democrats in the race for votes? An answer often given is that their leaders, Brynjolfur Bjarnason and Einar Olgeirsson, were astute politicians. But Professor Gissurarson commented that it was by no means evident that they were any abler than the social democratic leaders, Jon Baldvinsson, Haraldur Gudmundsson, and Stefan Johann Stefansson.

Professor Gissurarson suggested that probably the Socialist Unity Party in Iceland, formed in 1938  and dominated by communists, was more akin to the Finnish People’s Democratic League, formed in 1944 and also dominated by communists, than to the Scandinavian communist parties, for three reasons. First, Finland and Iceland had in early 20th century been much poorer than the three Scandinavian countries. Second, they had both been new states, Finland declaring her independence in 1917 and Iceland becoming a sovereign state in 1918. Third, civil society, with its invisible institutions, customs and traditions, had been less developed there than in the three Scandinavian countries, and therefore the ground had been more fertile to the seeds of revolution. Both the Icelandic Socialist Unity Party and the Finnish People’s Democratic League had electoral support of around 15–20% in the 1940s and 1950s.

Professor Gissurarson also pointed out that the Icelandic left socialists had enjoyed significant financial support from Moscow and that Icelandic voters, living in a very peaceful country, had been, and still are, somewhat naive, not taking the revolutionary rhetoric of the communists seriously. It was however clear, he said, that the Icelandic communist party of 1930–1938, and the Socialist Unity Party of 1938–1968 were both controlled by hardcore stalinists. Their supporters often resorted to street violence to further their aims, and the leaders had a close relationship with Moscow. On this, Professor Gissurarson referred to his book on the Icelandic communist movement. The People’s Alliance, an electoral alliance in 1956–1968 in which the Socialist Unity Party participated, and a political party after that, was more ambivalent about world communism. It did not have any official ties with Soviet communists, while it cultivated some other communist parties: For example, the last act of the party was to accept an invitation to send a delegation in 1998 to the Cuban communist party.

Professor Gissurarson’s lecture formed a part of the joint project by RNH and AECR on “Europe of the Victims”, where the goal is not to forget the words and deeds, or misdeeds, of communists and other 20th century totalitarians. Professor Gissurarson is the editor of a series of historical works on the struggle in Iceland against totalitarian communism. The books already published include articles on communism (Greinar um kommunisma) by Bertrand Russell, memoirs of Stalin’s prison camps (Konur i thraelakistum Stalins) by Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen, and Out of the Night (Ur alogum) by Jan Valtin (Richard Krebs).

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