current affairs

Who owes what to whom

There’s a rather nifty little interactive piece on the BBC’s business pages at the moment, showing European networks external debt. Click on each country and you can see how much they owe, and who they owe it to.

Here’s Britain’s external debt:


Now that you’ve seen Britain’s click across and view Greece. I was somewhat disturbed by the comparison. Greece owes just over €38,000 per person. British external debt comes in at €117,580 per person, an eye-watering figure. That’s 436% of GDP, to Greece’s 252%.

What’s different about Greece is that it’s the government that’s bankrupt. Government debt is 161% of GDP while Britain’s is 81%. But we’re far more indebted as a nation, owing a grand 7.3 trillion to other countries and their banks.

Seeing the data presented in this way, I find it extraordinary that in all this multi-trillion web of debt, it is Greece’s comparatively tiny share that is threatening to undo the whole edifice.

It’s also interesting to see how much debt is reciprocal. Britain owes France €209 billion, and France owes Britain €227 billion. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just arrange some kind of a swap and call it even…

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