Weak Business Culture as an Antecedent of Economic Crisis: The Case of Iceland

Vlad Vaiman, Throstur Olaf Sigurjonsson, Páll Ásgeir Davídsson

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The authors of this article contend that traditional corruption, which was largely blamed for the current situation in the Icelandic economy, was perhaps not the most fundamental reason for the ensuing crisis. The weak business culture and a symbiosis of business and politics have actually allowed for the bulk of self-serving and unethical decisions made by the Icelandic business and political elite. In order to illustrate this point, 10 expert interviews have been conducted within the period of 6 months in 2009 to support in-depth research carried out by the authors. The article also discloses questionable business practices that have recently come to the attention of the public both in Iceland and abroad and that ultimately facilitated the downfall of the Icelandic economy. While traditional corruption has probably played its role in this downfall, the measures currently employed to determine its level did not account for various peculiarities of Icelandic society. The article thus argues that there was a high level of corruption in Iceland, but it was outside of the traditional definition. This other corruption has ultimately prevented the government from acting appropriately upon the questionable business practices mentioned above. The article also offers some general recommendations which should be useful to both policy makers and business leaders wishing to engage in business activities in a transparent, ethical manner and learn from the tragic Icelandic experience. Among these recommendations are the necessity to recognize the limitations of current definitions of corruption, as well as a word of caution to commercial enterprises to pay a close attention not only to commonly accepted indices and mainstream reports but also to a country’s history, culture, and political environment, prior to making any sort of investment decisions in that country.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)259-272
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Business Culture
  • Business Ethics
  • Corruption
  • Iceland

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