Talk of the day: President Ólafur Grímsson on Iceland's path to recovery

It's not every day that a president comes to Maine. Ólafur Grímsson, Iceland's fifth and current president, gave a much-anticipated talk on Iceland's challenges since its economic collapse in October of 2008. Shortly thereafter, two consecutive volcano eruptions stalled international air traffic, spewed tons of ash into the air and generally wrought additional mayhem to an already belabored country. "Despite all our technological innovation," says Grímsson, "we learned we are not masters of our universe."

What Icelandic leaders also learned in the three years since the "financial tsunami" hit is a fascinating story of how implementing comprehensive political and social reform turned their economy around much faster than anyone anticipated. Grímsson was under enormous international political pressure to make the Icelandic people take financial responsibility for the actions of private banking institutions, which he strongly disagreed with. He was faced with serving the will of the people versus bending to the pressures of the market. To Grímsson, the choice was crystal clear. "I chose the democratic will of the people over the force of the market."

His talk at PopTech today explores the crucial linkage between democracy and the free market, explains the increasingly important role of social media in empowering people to challenge institutions, gives a shout-out to clean energy, and ultimately brings the PopTech crowd to its feet.

Note: PopTech's Emily Spivack had a chance to sit down with Grímsson for a one-on-one chat. We'll be posting this interview soon, so check back. 

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