Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Canary in the Coal Mine

Back in April, when we were voting in Florida's non-binding presidential primary, I ran into an old acquaintance, who always had a unique opinion on current affairs. (E.g., "Obama can't make it. Don't waste your vote.") (He looks a little like the drawing at left, just add captain's hat, goatee, and twin tobacco stains. Yet he's considered a guru by some, and has an impressive local following.) Some of his recent jags have been: Cambodia, the next place to invest (and live,) and Nicaragua, the unrecognized real estate investment of the century. ("You can buy a hacienda for a few pesos down.")

I asked him what his current predictions were. "Well, after doing considerable research on the world financial situation, I have decided that the best and safest place to put my money is Iceland, yes that's right, Iceland. I'll soon be investing everything in Icelandic Kroners."
We haven't seen him to confirm whether he bought the kroners or not. If he did, we suspect he's laying low. Iceland's over-leveraged economy crashed in a major way this fall. Financial analysts are referring to it as "the canary in the coal mine." How Iceland gets out of its fiscal jam will be an indication of whether it's going to be possible for the rest of the world to get out of theirs.
The accompanying pictures are part of an Icelandic ad campaign in response to British PM Gordon Brown's use of anti-terror legislation to freeze assets of Icelandic banks in Britain.

No, none of these people pictured look like terrorists to us. They do look like poor suckers who got caught up in a messy situation like everyone else in the world.
And now the proverbial canary has kicked the bucket. In a coal mine you sound an alarm, put on an emergency breathing apparatus if you have one, and head for the nearest elevator.

In the real world you make arrangements to protect whatever assets you have, and make preparations to deal with whatever may come. In Iceland that may include preparing yourself to eat fish in the dark.

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