Alumni essay: A new leadership role

Kristrun Frostadottir MA ’16 was recently elected as a member of Parliament for the Social Democratic Alliance of Iceland.

My journey to candidacy started a long while back, although the opportunity to run for Parliament came about rather quickly and unexpectedly. It was always my hope to work in public service at a senior level and my experience at Jackson strengthened that belief. I do think it is important that politicians have a variety of experiences, from the private, non-profit and public sector and I see my journey up until now, which has mostly taken place in the private sector, as an integral part of that preparation even though my goal was to change course at some point. My experience is mostly in economics and finance and more generally in public policy. I have worked in the financial sector in the US, UK and here in Iceland which has given me a strong background in the operation of financial markets – a market which has a significant impact on the real economy and society.

People might think it’s unfair, but money makes the world go around. And those who understand how money flows have a lot of power. Center left parties, like the Social Democratic Alliance, have in the past few decades had to rationalize the need for strong social investment in a world where the source of value in societies has been heavily associated with private markets, even though these private markets operate best in societies where public institutions are strong. Where strong welfare systems create the base that the private sector grows on, an educated public with a social security net enables it to take risks. The fact of the matter is that the structure of society is key if we are to find new ways to grow sustainably and increase quality of life. We all know that the best ideas are not just born and discussed at the kitchen table of well-off families. Yet, the way our society is structured today opportunities to take risks and test out these good ideas are increasingly inherited. This is not just unfair; it is bad economic policy. We are losing out on great ideas. This needs to change.

I take with me into this new job as a Parliamentarian knowledge of the real economy and its financial underpinnings, which gives me increased credibility when discussing social policy and programs. This conversation has been changing over the past decade, a conversation which was very active at Jackson and Yale in general; how social investment and social structures truly do create the underpinnings for a healthy market economy—not the other way around, as so often has been the case in political discourse.

I am proud to bring all these experiences with me into Parliament. Jackson had an immense impact on me and how I view the world. It enabled me to find my own voice, through a very broad choice of courses and support from faculty and mentors. We were encouraged to find our own path, and my class was very diverse in terms of interests. But what united us was a desire to make our communities a better place and our interest in public policy, international cooperation, and global leadership. My interests have always been broad and with many touch points—today‘s biggest challenges are indeed interdisciplinary in nature. My background is in economics, but my interest has always been in the subject as a social science – in people – and how policies are formed. Coming to Jackson with my econ background and building upon it with courses in IR, climate policies, the politics of developing economies and Asia, even courses in Greek philosophy, really pushed me to think on a wide and global scale. My appreciation for other disciplines grew immensely, as well as my ability to tap into a wide variety of disciplines, creating a certain depth in analyzing social and economic policies that has been tremendously helpful in my work so far. In fact, my entry point into politics came through attention I received here in Iceland during COVID for my analysis of economic policies and government programs, analyses that were based on the very same interdisciplinary approach I learned at Jackson.

My international network has grown significantly since my time there, supported by mentors, faculty and friends from Jackson. I am still in touch with a number of people from my time at Jackson and look forward to growing this network in my new role as a Member of Parliament.

The next four years will be challenging in many ways here in Iceland, but I see so many opportunities—this is what drives me on this journey. I know we can do better in terms of social policies and job opportunities. We need to have a real discussion about bottom-up economics – investment in people is what will drive growth here, opportunities for young people. Housing issues are at the top of my mind now, the need for more social housing. I view this not just as a social policy and a basic need for people with low income, but as a fundamental part of creating stability in the Icelandic economy. Housing price increases are a big source of economic and social instability here. Social housing can form an anchor for these prices. This is one of the biggest market failures here and the central government needs to step in and correct it. My policy focus will be on these market failures – the market is not a natural phenomenon, it is created by all of us through a set of rules and regulations. Everything is a decision, everything is political. It is not set in stone. We are responsible for negative externalities and failures, how the current market structure impacts equal opportunity, wealth accumulation and our inability so far to deal with climate change in a serious manner. I am stepping into this new role with a strong footing in economics and finance, understanding of the flow of money and goods as well as strong insight into global institutions and public policy. These are skills I honed at Jackson, and that I have been nurturing ever since.

Published October 6, 2021