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.Since its fishing policy transformed Iceland, the place has become, in effect, a machine for turning cod into PhDs.But this, of course, creates a new problem: people with PhDs don’t want to fish for a living.They need something else to do.And that something is probably not working in the industry that exploits Iceland’s other main natural resource: energy.The waterfalls and boiling lava generate vast amounts of cheap power, but, unlike oil, it cannot be profitably exported.Iceland’s power is trapped in Iceland, and if there is something poetic about the idea of trapped power, there is also something prosaic in how the Icelanders have come to terms with the problem.They asked themselves: What can we do that other people will pay money for that requires huge amounts of power? The answer was: smelt aluminum.Notice that no one asked, What might Icelanders want to do? Or even: What might Icelanders be especially suited to do? No one thought that Icelanders might have some natural gift for smelting aluminum, and, if anything, the opposite proved true.Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant.The first was the so-called hidden people—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe.Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it.It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free, but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.” The other, more serious problem was the Icelandic male: he took more safety risks than aluminum workers in other nations did.“In manufacturing,” says the Alcoa spokesman, “you want people who follow the rules and fall in line.You don’t want them to be heroes.You don’t want them to try to fix something it’s not their job to fix, because they might blow up the place.” The Icelandic male had a propensity to try to fix something it wasn’t his job to fix.Back away from the Icelandic economy and you can’t help but notice something really strange about it: the people have cultivated themselves to the point where they are unsuited for the work available to them.All these exquisitely schooled, sophisticated people, each and every one of whom feels special, are presented with two mainly horrible ways to earn a living: trawler fishing and aluminum smelting.There are, of course, a few jobs in Iceland that any refined, educated person might like to do.Certifying the nonexistence of elves, for instance.(“This will take at least six months—it can be very tricky.”) But not nearly so many as the place needs, given its talent for turning cod into PhDs.At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Icelanders were still waiting for some task more suited to their filigreed minds to turn up inside their economy so they might do it.Enter investment banking.FOR THE FIFTH time in as many days I note a slight tension at any table where Icelandic men and Icelandic women are both present.The male exhibits the global male tendency not to talk to the females—or, rather, not to include them in the conversation—unless there is some obvious sexual motive.But that’s not the problem, exactly.Watching Icelandic men and women together is like watching toddlers.They don’t play together but in parallel; they overlap even less organically than men and women in other developed countries, which is really saying something.It isn’t that the women are oppressed, exactly.On paper, by historical global standards, they have it about as good as women anywhere: good public health care, high participation in the workforce, equal rights [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]