After the recent GDP figures from ONS, the general reaction was rather pessimistic. FT had e.g. this tweet and article:
True, this doesn't look good. In fact, after the revisions, UK GDP volume is now further below its top before the financial crisis than Iceland's GDP is. The following graph is based on data from ONS and Statistics Iceland. The top is given the value 100 (3Q07 for Iceland but 1Q08 for the UK). Chained volume measurement, seasonally adjusted (yes, the Icelandic data are SA although they don't look like it).
Iceland's GDP is now 0.4% closer to its top before the crisis than UK's GDP compared to its top. Then again, Iceland had its top two quarters ahead of the UK.
But - there is always a "but" - this is a volume measurement. And although economics teach us to think in volumes and real measurements, we arguably do not rely on barter (and never did) in our commerce. We use money and money is different between economies: try paying with Queen's money in Iceland and you'll be a laughing stock (I've tried, the guy just grinned at me) just as you will be if you try using the ISK in the UK.
So what happens if we price the volume produced in the same currency, say the GBP. That comparison makes sense: we could be producing the same volume as before the crisis but is it worth the same?
The UK volume is already priced in pounds so no need to handle that in a special way. But the Icelandic volume measure uses the ISK as a measurement stick and that measurement stick has changed significantly since before the crisis. If we measure both of the volumes in GBP, the following graph is the result.
Notice the drop in the Iceland data in 2006. This is the "Geyser crisis", a short wake up call to the fact that we were in a bubble. But it did not last long; politicians and prominent businessmen claimed everything was peachy, the housing bubble restarted (held up with exchange-rate linked loans which have now been deemed illegal) and the banks kept on growing. Then, finally, the party ended.
To my British friends I say: sure, you're not in the best of situations. But if it makes you feel better, you're not in the worst.