development sustainability wealth

The world’s most indebted countries

When you think of the most indebted countries, who do you think of? You probably think of African countries such as Ethiopia, Malawi or Chad.

Those countries are all on the IMF’s list of heavily indebted countries, all places that are struggling under a heavy burden of public debt.

If you add personal and public debt together, both government loans and private loans, credit card debts and mortgages, the results are a little different. The total amount owed to parties outside the country is called ‘external debt’. The top ten most indebted countries in the world by external debt looks like this:

  1. United States – $13,703,567 million
  2. United Kingdom – $10,450,ooo
  3. Germany – $4,489,000
  4. France – $4,396,000
  5. Netherlands – $2,277,000
  6. Ireland – $1,841,000
  7. Japan – $1,492,000
  8. Switzerland – $1,340,000
  9. Belgium – $1,313,ooo
  10. Spain – $1,313,000

As the government regularly tells us, it’s not the amount of debt that’s important, but the ability to pay. It does tell us something about our wealth however – it is created out of debt.  For that wealth to continue or to grow, we will need to take on more debt, as we’ve seen repeatedly over the last few months. (the figures above are October 08 and out of date already)

Does that sound like a sustainable way to run an economy?

PS  – I have had to close comments on this post, as it was being spammed by debt management websites – sorry!


  1. Definitely not sustainable. This financial crisis that the US is in was created as a result of greedy investors trying to make wealth out of nothing.

    The reckless speculation led to the bubble that the whole world is hurting from.

  2. The financial picture of an individual, company, or country can never be accurately evaluated unless a relative comparison is done with regard to: 1) assets 2) liabilities 3) income.

    The United States, like all countries, measures its income in terms of GDP. So what is its financial picture:

    Annual GDP – 14.6 Trillion ( 2008 )
    Liabilities – 13.7 Trillion ( your numbers above )
    Assets – 400 Trillion? This is a guess…what are all the public lands, private industries, and intellectual talent of this country worth?

    This gives the u.s. a debt to GDP ratio of 93%….using your figures above. So, I ask you….if I told you I had total outstanding debt of $93,000 and my income was $100,000 a year…..would you say I was ‘heavily indebted’….even without knowing my asset picture?

  3. My point is only that in order to create wealth, you need to take on debt. That works fine under normal circumstances, except that all debt assumes that things will carry on as normal, or that you’ll be richer in the future.

    Unfortunately, with peak oil and climate change we might not be richer in the future, so that debt could become a problem, even if it isn’t one now.

    Further, borrowing for investment is smart borrowing, as you’ll make it back in time. The governments of the West have been borrowing to fill budget deficits for years, and there’s no return on that – it’s basically just living off the income of the next generation.

    So no, I wouldn’t say the US is heavily indebted in the way that African countries are, but we are all alarmingly dependent on debt.

  4. its a scam. money is a scam. whilst a monetary system continues, there will always be people, or nations in debt. debt enslaves people, because they do not survive without resources. you cannot have a monetary system without debt.

    scarcity is what creates a need for a monetary system. with an abundance, there is no need for money, or theft. and an abundance, globally, is achievable with proper use of resources and existing technology. you people who think you own something.. WAKE UP. ownership of property is an illusion. its not yours ALL THE RESOURCES OF THIS WORLD ARE THE COMMON HERITAGE OF ITS PEOPLE. LEARN TO SHARE YOU GREEDY B ANKERS

  5. blake is right. the populace is and has been conned for hundreds of years. a small minority of people manipulate our commercial world view. the mass’s including me follow and what a bunch we are. we know its wrong, unfair and unnecessary but we are to lazy (frightened) to rock the boat, which by the way will eventually sink, potentially taken all hands on board and maybe the planet as we know it! but wait, there is news, a surge in house prices
    has been anounced on tv and press, lets clap sorry crap as the old mentality re-emerges. will we ever learn ?

  6. Nice overview of the indebtedness of the country as a whole, but what about per capita? Personally, that is what I find more interesting.

  7. I wrote a 1,381 word long comment 🙂 Silly me, I wrote it in “Website:”
    Anyways, does any1 know more accurate numbers? I have a feeling they’re not correct, at all.

    1. Yes, if anyone has some alternative figures, I’d like to see them too.

      However, considering the string of national governments running out of money, see Greece, Spain, Hungary, UK, etc, I’m pretty sure that the point is made: massive borrowing is not a sensible way to run an economy in the long term.

  8. By the way, mykos is totally wrong :O (1st comment that was made on this page).

    I’m guessing he googles alot and ends up at the wrong pages – far from the right facts atleast 😀 🙂

  9. Lets file for bankruptcy. Everyone else does it.Only pay back funds loaned from Americans.

    If they come for their money we have the military to tell them to ‘beat it” !

  10. The first thing comes up in my mind of most indebted countries are the 3rd class countries. I was surprise my country was not listed. I am glad but I am wondering why our government and the people keep on strugling on wealth.

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