Mont Pelerin Society Meeting in Stanford, January 2020

From left: Arnason, Runolfsson and Gissurarson.

Three Icelanders, Professors Ragnar Arnason, Birgir Th. Runolfsson and Hannes H. Gissurarson, all members of the RNH Academic Council, attended a regional meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society at Stanford 15–17 January 2020, organised by MPS President Professor John Taylor and the staff of the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

Guedes addresses the Stanford meeting.

Still going strong at 99 years, George Shultz, Economics Professor at Chicago and Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, gave his view on contemporary issues in a talk with Professor Taylor at the opening dinner on 15 January. Paulo Guedes, Milton Friedman’s student at Chicago and presently Brazil’s Finance Minister, described his ambitious economic reform programme over dinner on 16 January. Entrepreneur Peter Thiel discussed politics and economics with Peter Robinson at the closing dinner on 17 January.

Alejandro Chafuen of the Acton Institute and Gissurarson both attended their first MPS meeting at Stanford in 1980.

Other speakers included Bruce Caldwell who described the 1947 founding of the Mont Pelerin Society, at Friedrich Hayek’s initiative; David Henderson who recalled the general meeting of MPS at Stanford forty years ago, in 1980; Robert Skidelsky, Lord Skidelsky, who presented his interpretation of the great economic controversies of the day; Niall Ferguson who lamented the deteriation in the rule of law; John Cogan who proposed solutions to the American debt problem; Samuel Gregg who argued for a deeper understanding of the moral foundations of capitalism; Bridgett Wagner who explained the aims and strategies of Heritage Foundation; and The Lord Borwick, 5th Baron, who defended Brexit. Over lunch on 17 January, Axel Kaiser and Ernesto Silva spoke about the serious situation in Chile, where after the very successful economic reforms of the 1970s and 1980s, hard-core leftists are trying in well-organised riots to force a change of course, despite the glaring example of Venezuela.

The regional meeting at Stanford was superbly organised by Professor Taylor, and the papers and the ensuing discussions were almost all of high quality. Although the MPS is not a secret society, exchanges of views at its meetings remain confidential so that speakers can explore ideas and arguments regardless of political sensitivities. Hannes H. Gissurarson (who completed his D. Phil. in Politics on Hayek at Oxford in 1985) was one of the few people at the 2020 meeting who had also been at the Stanford meeting of 1980, forty years earlier. He became member in 1984, sat on the MPS Board in 1998–2004 and organised a regional meeting in Iceland in August 2005. Past MPS Presidents include Nobel Prize winners Friedrich A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, James M. Buchanan and Gary Becker.

Thiel interviewed by Peter Robinson.


Comments Off

Gissurarson Interview in New Zealand

In June 2017, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson published an article in The Conservative, published by ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) in Brussels, ‘Why Small Countries are Richer and Happier’. The article has been widely discussed, even by leftwing intellectuals like Nick Slater in New Zealand. On 15 December 2019, Professor Gissurarson was in a long Sunday morning interview at Radio New Zealand about his argument where he discussed the case for small states: they usually are cohesive and transparent, less aggressive, and maintain open economies which enables them to benefit from international division of labour through free trade. In some of them, like the Nordic countries and New Zealand, the Rule of Law is also a strong tradition. The chief weakness of small states is their powerlessness against larger and more aggressive neighbours (as the Baltic states discovered after the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact between Hitler and Stalin and Tibet after the Second World War), and this weakness can be tackled partly by alliances with other larger and friendlier neighbours (such as with the United States in the cases of Iceland and New Zealand) and by alliances between small states themselves: United we stand, divided we fall. Gissurarson also pointed out that Iceland and New Zealand had much in common in many ways. The Anglo-Saxon and Nordic political traditions were closely related.

Comments Off

Gissurarson: Free Trade with Brazil

RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, published an article online, both in 1818 and in Initiative for Free Trade, in December 2019 where he argued that there were ample opportunities for free trade between the United Kingdom once she left the European Union, and Brazil. Gissurarson first briefly explained why the UK had chosen to leave the EU. It was when the EU embarked upon political integration in addition to economic integration—when it began to transform itself from an open market to a closed state. The natural place of the UK should be with the three richest countries of Europe, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

Gissurarson who resides in Rio de Janeiro half the year pointed out that Brazil, with her large economy, should also be regarded with interest by the UK. However, despite some economic reforms implemented during the Presidency of Fernando-Henrique Cardoso, from 1995 to 2002, the Brazilian economy still remains overprotected and overregulated. It scores low on a competitiveness index, and maintains towering trade barriers. Nevertheless, the present government, under President Jair Bolsonaro and Finance Minister Paulo Guedes, wants to liberalise the economy and facilitate free trade.

Comments Off

Critique of Rawls and Piketty


The French scholarly journal Journal des Économistes et des Études Humaines, published by De Gruyter, has put out an online version of a paper by RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, on ‘Redistributionism in Theory and Practice’ where he criticises the two main icons of the intellectual left, John Rawls and Thomas Piketty. The paper’s abstract reads like this:

Rawls’ theory is about prudence rather than justice. It is about the kind of political structure on which rational people would agree if they were preparing for the worst. Other strategies, such as confining redistribution to upholding a safety net, might also be plausible. Rawls’ theory is Georgism in persons: the income from individual abilities is regarded as if it is at the disposal of the collective and could be taxed as rent. This goes against the strong moral intuition of self-ownership. However, Rawls’ question, where the worst off are as well off as they can be, is interesting. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, it actually may be under relatively unfettered capitalism. Unlike Rawls, Piketty is chiefly worried about the rich, seeking to impose confiscatory taxes on them. But the rich are not a fixed, unchangeable group of people who can effortlessly watch their capital accumulate. Capital is precarious, as is vividly illustrated in Balzac’s novel Père Goriot which Piketty quotes. Different as the approaches of Rawls and Piketty are, both of them agree that their ideal society has to be closed: It must become ‘socialism in one country.’

Comments Off

Gissurarson: Conflict Between Groups, Not Man and Nature

A distinction has to be made between wise-use environmentalism and ecofundamentalism, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director, argued in a paper on green capitalism at the conference Weekend Capitalism in Warsaw 23–24 November 2019. Wise-use environmentalists want to utilise natural resources efficiently and therefore seek to reduce environmental damage such as pollution and overfishing. One of the most effective ways to do so, according to them, is to define private property rights (or exclusive use rights) to natural resources, thus appointing stewards, custodians or guardians. Protection requires protectors. Ecofundamentalists on the other hand believe that man and nature are in conflict and that the environment has independent rights against man.

Gissurarson pointed out that environmental conflicts are usually not between man and nature, but rather between different groups. One example was the whale in Icelandic waters. One group wanted to harvest it and eat it. Another group wanted to preserve it, even if whale stocks in the Icelandic waters are quite robust. For them, whales seem to be like sacred cows under Hinduism. Whales, however, eat more than six million tonnes of seafood in the Icelandic waters, including small fishes. The Icelanders, in contrast, only harvest a little more than a million tonne of fish. The demand by whale preservationists is therefore in fact that the Icelanders feed the whale for them withouth themselves being able to utilise it. They are like the insolent farmer who drives his cattle to his neighbour’s meadows, expecting him to feed them.

Another example analysed by Gissurarson was the rainforest in the Amazon. Ecofundamentalists wants to preserve it intact. The arguments for this are not strong, however, Gissurarson said. It is not correct that the rainforest produces a lot of oxygen, and biological diversity could be maintained in a much smaller area than the rainforest occupies at present. But let us assume that the arguments hold and that the Amazon forest is critical to man’s existence on earth. Then of course the rest of the world’s population should pay the Brazilians for maintaining the forest.

Gissurarson Slides in Warsaw 24 November 2019

Weekend Capitalism was organised by Tomek Kołodziejczuk for The Centre of Capitalism and for the Mises Institute Poland. It took place at the Warsaw Stock Market, and was sold out. The Freedom Lounge, a libertarian bar close to the Stock Market, in the former headquarters of the Polish Communist Party, was open in the evenings, offering cocktails with the names of libertarian and conservative activists. Gissurarson used the opportunity in Warsaw to see two old friends, Dr. Pawel Ukielski, Deputy Director of the Museum of the 1944 Rising, and Professor Leszek Balcerowicz, former Finance Minister and Governor of Poland’s Central Bank and the main author of the plan by which Poland escaped from the quagmire of socialism. Gissurarson’s participation in the conference formed a part of the joint project by RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, about ‘Bluegreen Capitalism’.

Comments Off

Jan Valtin in Poitiers

Richard Krebs (Jan Valtin)

One of the most telling documents on the Twentieth Century is the autobiography of Richard Krebs, writing under the pseudonym Jan Valtin, Out of the Night, published in 1941, RNH Academic Director Hannes H. Gissurarson suggested in a paper at a conference on Valtin in Poitiers 14–15 November 2019. Born in 1905, Krebs had been an agent of the international communist movement and a double agent inside the Gestapo before escaping to the United States in 1938. His autobiography, a best-seller in the United States, was hotly debated in Iceland in the summer and autumn of 1941, even before the first part was translated and published by the Icelandic social democratic book club, selling more than 4,000 copies in the tiny Icelandic book market. Stalinist writer Halldor K. Laxness wrote a vitriolic personal attack on Valtin, while economist Benjamin Eiriksson—whose earlier stay in the Soviet Union for more than a year had deprived him of many illusions—said that the book rang true. By their fierce campaign against the book, the Icelandic communists managed to delay the appearance of its second part until 1944, and then it was published by some individuals and not by the social democratic book club.

Modern research has shown that many of Valtin’s controversial assertions were true, Professor Gissurarson observed, for example about some Icelandic seamen being Comintern couriers and about the Danish labour leader Richard Jensen engaging in clandestine missions for the Comintern. Despite some inaccuracies and exaggerations, Valtin’s book is important for understanding twentieth century totalitarianism, Gissurarson concluded. In 2015, he edited a republication of the Icelandic translation in one volume, available both on paper and online, with an Introducation and Notes.

At the conference Swedish journalist Dennis Renfors discussed Jan Valtin in Sweden and the other two Scandinavian countries. As a Comintern agent, Krebs was being monitored by the security police in all three countries. In 1942, his book was published in Sweden, but out of consideration for Nazi Germany the chapters about his torture by the Gestapo were omitted. German historian Ernst von Waldenfels—who wrote a biography of Krebs in German, recently translated into English—summed up his research about Krebs, arguing that the heroic Jan Valtin of the book and its author, Richard Krebs, were not one and the same person, even if von Waldenfels would not go so far as to say that the book was a novel rather than an autobiography. Dr. Roger Mattson—who is currently writing a biography of Krebs in English—gave an account of the five last years of Krebs’ life, from 1945 to 1950. Professor Guillaume Bourgeois described the main findings about Krebs in the archives of the British secret service and in the dossier of French communist lawyer Joë Nordmann. The British files showed that Krebs had by no means exaggerated his importance as a Comintern agent. Professor Gildas Le Voguer analysed the interrogations of Krebs by the US House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Professor Bourgeois organised the conference which was lively, friendly and informal. Richard Krebs’ son Eric was present with his wife, reading out to the attendees in the evening of 14 November a selection of unpublished letters from his father. Papers delivered at the conference will eventually be published in a book. Gissurarson’s participation in the event formed a part in the joint project of RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists, on ‘Europe of the Victims’.

Gissurarson Slides in Poitiers 15 November 2019

Mattson, Eric and Suzanne Krebs, Gissurarson, Le Voguer, and von Waldenfels in front of Poitiers City Hall. Photo: Dennis Renfors.

Comments Off