Online Books on Economic Freedom and Enterprise

RNH has taken on the project of putting online scholarly works on economic freedom and enterprise, some of which have long been out of print and inaccessible. Partners in this project include Atlas Network and ACRE, Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe. Already, five works in the series are accessible on Google Books, and they can be read by clicking on the book titles:

  • Individual Transferable Quotas in Theory and Practice, published in 1999. One of the authors is Professor Anthony Scott, one of the pioneers of fisheries economics. The nature and development of the fisheries systems in New Zealand and Iceland are described and discussed. Edited by Professors Ragnar Arnason and Hannes H. Gissurarson.
  • Cutting Taxes to Increase Prosperity, published in 2007 as a part of a research project on taxation and welfare for the Icelandic Ministry of Finance, supervised by Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson. The authors include distinguished economists, such as Nobel Laureate Edward C. Prescott and Professors Pascal Salin, Brendan Walsh and Ragnar Arnason. Edited by Dr. Tryggvi Thor Herbertsson og Professor Gissurarson.
  • Ahrif skattahaekkana a hagvoxt og lifskjor [The Impact by Tax Increases on Economic Growth and Living Standards], published in 2009 as a part of a research project on taxation and welfare for the Icelandic Ministry of Finance, supervised by Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson. The author, Professor Gissurarson, discusses Hegel’s and Rawls’ theories of the welfare state, the relevance of the index of economic freedom and the impact of taxation on economic growth and welfare.
  • Tekjudreifing og skattar [Income Distribution and Taxation], published in 2014. Written by experts on these issues, including Professor Ragnar Arnason, statistician Dr. Helgi Tomasson and economist Dr. Axel Hall. Edited by Professors Arnason and Birgir Thor Runolfsson. With an English Summary.
  • The Icelandic Fisheries: Sustainable and Profitable, published in 2015. The author, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, describes the Icelandic system of ITQs, individual transferable quotas, which has been a resounding economic success, while other nations have to subsidise their fisheries.

 

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Online Book on Income Distribution and Taxation

RNH is, in cooperation with Atlas Network and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, supporting the republication online by AB (The Public Book Club) of many books relevant to individual and economic freedom. In early 2016 a recent book by RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, was published, The Icelandic Fisheries: Sustainable and Profitable. In January 2017, a 2009 book by Professor Gissurarson was made available online, Ahrif skattahaekkana a hagvoxt og lifskjor (Impact of Tax Increases on Economic Growth and Living Standards). In February 2017, a collection of articles, Tekjudreifing og skattar (Income Distribution and Economic Growth), edited by Economics Professors Ragnar Arnason and Birgir Thor Runolfsson, was published. Other authors were economists Arnaldur S. Kristjansson and Axel Hall, Hannes H. Gissurarson and statistician Helgi Tomasson. While the book is in Icelandic, there is a five pages Summary in English at the back. The authors discuss the problems of measuring income distribution (for example by so-called Gini coefficients) and of defining the poverty. Paradoxically, an increase in life expectancy, an earlier retirement age and a longer time spent in school can all lead to income distribution being measured less equal. Two of the conclusions in the book are that poverty, both absolute (in dollars or kronur) and relative (as a proportion of median income), is on the same low level in Iceland as in the other Nordic countries and that income distribution is also similar to that in the other Nordic countries. Professor Arnason submits that the net tax burden (tax payments less government services and benefits) should be considered, and when this is done, the income tax turns out to be much more progressive than usually envisaged. Professor Runolfsson presents the unequivocal results of measuring economic freedom internationally: Everybody, both rich and poor, are better off in the freer economies. Some of the authors discuss the fact that welfare benefits are means-tested in Iceland which can create tax wedges when it does not pay for individuals to increase their work hours because then they lose benefits. These traps have to be abolished without directing benefits to those who do not need them.

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Online Book on Taxation and Welfare

RNH, in cooperation with Atlas Network and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, supporting the republication online by AB (The Public Book Club) of many books relevant to individual and economic freedom. In early 2016 a recent book by RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, was published, The Icelandic Fisheries: Sustainable and Profitable. In January 2017, a 2009 book by Professor Gissurarson was made available online, Ahrif skattahaekkana a hagvoxt og lifskjor (Impact of Tax Increases on Economic Growth and Living Standards). In the latter book Professor Gissurarson discusses the two most important philosophical cases for the welfare state, Hegel’s emphasis on social inclusion and Rawls’ concern for the worst-off. He argues that the “Icelandic model” pursued in Iceland under the leadership of David Oddsson in 1991–2004 met both Hegel’s and Rawls’ criteria. It provided for more social inclusion than most other societies because unemployment was insignificant, the poverty level was low, pension funds were strong and retirement age was relatively high. The worst-off in Iceland were better off than in most other countries and had the opportunity to better their conditions. In fact, during this period the income of the lowest-income group increased more rapidly in Iceland than in any other European country with the exception of oil-rich Norway. Professor Gissurarson presents evidence from the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom that generally speaking the worst-off are best-off in free economies. Therefore, a Rawlsian social democrat ought to support the market economy, free trade and the rule of law. Professor Gissurarson also describes the success of comprehensive tax reductions in Iceland in 1991–2004, warning against tax increases.

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Biography of Professor Olafur Bjornsson

Hannes H. Gissurarson interviews Olafur Bjornsson for radio 12 November 1978.

The old and venerable magazine Andvari each year publishes a short biography of a leading Icelander. In 2016, RNH Academic Director Hannes H. Gissurarson writes a 63 pages article about the leading free market economist Professor Olafur Bjornsson. It starts with Bjornsson’s forefathers and his studies at Akureyri Grammar School and Copenhagen University where Bjornsson was an outstanding student. Professor Gissurarson mentions Bjornsson’s interest in radical political ideas while in Copenhagen and his participation in Kyndill, an association of radical Icelandic students in Copenhagen. After reading works by von Mises and Hayek, Bjornsson turned away from socialism. He became convinced that the most efficient way of ordering economic production was by devolution of power and free international trade. Under central economic planning the knowledge and skills of individual participants in the market process were not fully utilised.

When Bjornsson returned to Iceland in 1938, he therefore became one of the strongest critics of the extensive economic controls in Iceland which had been adopted in the World Depression. In 1944, he also translated an extract of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, which led to a heated debate in Icelandic newspapers, the communist newspaper calling Hayek “the international freak” and Bjornsson “the national freak”. Bjornsson taught economics at the High School of Commerce and later at the Faculty of Business Administration and Economics at the University of Iceland from early 1940 until his retirement at 70 in 1982. He published many books, including a monumental work on the Icelandic economy. In 1956–1971, Bjornsson was a member of parliament for the Independence Party and contributed much to the great reduction of the economic controls in two steps, in 1950 and 1960. In 1978, he published a political tract, Libertarianism and Totalitariarism, which had great impact on the young generation in Iceland. Bjornsson passed away in 1999, leaving a wife and three sons. Gissurarson’s biography forms a part of the joint RNH-ACRE project on “Europe, Iceland, and the Future of Capitalism”.

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Service, Servitude, Escape

Aatami Kuortti

On 25 December 2016 a quarter of a century had passed since the Soviet Union broke down. This was the day when Mikhail Gorbachev relinquished his office, and the next day, the red flag with the hammer and sickle was lowered for the last time on the Kremlin. On this occasion the Public Book Club, AB, republished a very interesting source on the late Soviet Union, the book Service, Servitude, Escape by Aatami Kuortti. It was first brought out by the Christian Literary Society in the spring of 1938 in a translation by Rev. Gunnar Johannesson. The author was a Finnish-speaking Lutheran pastor from Ingria, the territory between Estonia and Finland. Rev. Kuortti served three parishes in Ingria between 1927 and 1930. He was arrested for refusing to provide the Soviet secret police with information about his parishioneers, and sent for ten years to a slave camp in Karelia.

After a few months in the slave camp Kuortti managed to escape, and he walked day and night in the direction of the Finnish border. He was once caught, but managed to escape from the secret service, and after a trip of twelve days and nights through the forests and lakes in Karelia he reached Finland. He wrote an account of life under Soviet rule, his imprisonment in the slave camp and his escape in a simple and unpretentious manner, but all the more moving therefore. His book was published in Finnish in 1934, in Swedish in 1935 and in Danish in 1937. It was the first full-length book published in Iceland by a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag. Incidentally, in the autumn of 1938 two books on the Soviet Union were published in Iceland, Kuortti’s book and the Russian Adventure (Gerska aefintyrid) by Halldor Kiljan Laxness. The authors were contemporaries: Kuortti was born in 1903, a year later than Laxness, and he passed away in 1997, a year earlier than the Icelandic writer. It is interesting to compare the two books and the different approaches of their authors to their subject-matter in the light of experience.

Kuortti’s book is the 8th one in a series of republications by AB of works on totalitarianism. This series forms a part of the joint RNH-ACRE project on “Europe of the Victims”. Previous books are Articles on Communism by Bertrand Russell, Women in Stalin’s Prison Camps by Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen, Out of the Night by Jan Valtin (Richard Krebs), the Secret Speech on Stalin by Nikita Khruschev (with Lenin’s Testament), El campesino by Valentín González and Julián Gorkin, Baltic Eclipse by Ants Oras and Estonia: A Study in Imperialism by Andres Küng. Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson writes an introduction and notes in all the books in the series.

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Slovenia-Iceland: 25 Years of Friendship

Zver giving her lecture. Chair: Education Minister Illugi Gunnarsson. Photo: Olafur Engilbertsson.

On 19 December 1991, Iceland became the first Western country to recognise independent Slovenia which had formally seceded from Yugoslavia on 25 June. Previously, newly liberated countries like Ukraine and Lithuania had recognised the new state. On the 25th anniversary of Iceland’s recognition of Slovenia, 19 December 2016, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson published an article in Morgunbladid, reflecting on small states and nations. He agreed with the definition by Ernest Renan of a nation: a collective united by its will to be a nation. On this definition, both Icelanders and Slovenians could be regarded as nations. Professor Gissurarson also pointed out that economic integration facilitated the formation of small states, because they could benefit from the international division of labour and free trade. The larger the markets were, the smaller the political units could be.

Slovenian historian Dr. Andreja Zver gave a lecture at an RNH event in Iceland 16 September 2013 on the Slovenian experience of 20th century totalitarianism, as the country had been controlled by fascists, nazis and communists one after another. Still, mass graves from totalitarian times are being discovered in the country. Zver is married to one of the best-known politicians of Slovenia, former Education Minister Milan Zver, an MEP. Professor Gissurarson’s article forms a part of the joint RNH-ACRE project on “Europe of the Victims”.

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