Pirates May Soon Govern Iceland: Why that matters for libertarians


The revelations of the Panama Papers leaks have sent shockwaves across political elites on both sides of the Atlantic. They have already done serious damage to a number of leaders, and even claimed a few scalps, including that of the Prime Minister of Iceland.

Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson had taken office as a serious reformer, but he was sunk when the Panama Papers showed his wife was an owner of a shadowy holding company that dealt in Icelandic debt vehicles. A libertarian is unlikely to worry overmuch about what people do with their own money, but the public outcry was sufficient to oust the leader.

Iceland Pirate PartyBut the ultimate effects of this saga have yet to be felt in Iceland. The Panama Papers release has resulted in a collapse in support for an already beleaguered political establishment. Today, the most popular party in the country is the Pirate Party.

Making it into the Althing (parliament) for the first time in 2013 with 5.1% of the vote (barely scraping the 5% threshold needed to be allocated seats), the Pirate Party is now favored by as much as 43% of the electorate. By contrast, the two parties currently governing in coalition have a combined support of just 29.5%. If those numbers hold up until the next election in 2017, Iceland could find itself governed by the Pirates.

So why should all this matter for people of a libertarian mindset? Because the party has many of the hallmarks of a libertarian movement. The guiding principle of the party is a focus on direct democracy, which in a country as small as Iceland means a focus on consensus-building rather than on the directives of bureaucracies and political careerists. Some libertarians are wary of the referendum as a political tool, yet it can be a powerful check on the power of government when used to review legislation, as it will be under the Pirates.

Furthermore, the Pirates are a breath of fresh air when it comes to civil liberties. They are adamantly opposed to data collection by government security services, and are in favor of the elimination of most restrictions on marijuana and other recreational drugs. The signature issue that motivated the party’s creation, copyright, is also libertarian-flavored: the Pirates support and open internet and the removal of most restrictions on the sharing of information online.

On the economy, the Pirates want to remove straitjacketing restrictions on small and medium-sized businesses, while breaking up the cozy ties of government with corporatist-minded businesses that have sought to wield political power and to strangle competition through onerous regulations.

While, the Pirates have some decidedly un-libertarian views, such as on a constitutionally-guaranteed minimum wage, the overall thrust of their platform is a breath of fresh air in the stale politics of Europe. Traditionally, libertarian views have found little purchase in European politics, being relegated to a tiny voice in, or shut out entirely from, the political discourse. If the Pirates win in 2017 that embargo on libertarian ideas will have been brought to an end.

The Pirates are also important because they reflect, even in their more “leftist” policies, a powerful shift away from the collectivist politics of the Left that have sought to degrade the rights and identity of the individual. The Pirates have an aggressively individualist stance on almost all issues. Even their favoring of group decision-making through referenda bespeaks a desire to hear from all individuals in the society and not simply the loudest and most strident voices.

So regardless of who you may be voting for in the American elections this year, everyone with a libertarian leaning should be hoping for the victory of Piracy in Iceland.

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John Engle

John Engle is a merchant banker and author living in the Chicago area. His company, Almington Capital, invests in both early-stage venture capital and in public equities. His writing has been featured in a number of academic journals, as well as the blogs of the Heartland Institute, Grassroot Institute, and Tenth Amendment Center. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and the University of Oxford, John’s first book, Trinity Student Pranks: A History of Mischief and Mayhem, was published in September 2013.